medal, a piece of metal, cast or struck, often coin-shaped. The obverse and reverse bear bas-relief and inscription. Commemorative medals are issued in memory of a notable person or event. Civil and military decorations are those medals (disk, cross, or star) conferred by state, order, or organization for signal bravery or service or for distinction in science or the arts. Religious medals, often worn by Roman Catholics, are believed to be efficacious if blessed by the Church; an indulgence may be attached to a blessed medal. Medals have ranked as works of art since Greek times; Roman medals are notable for their realistic portraiture. Medals returned to fashion during the Renaissance, especially through the fine work of Pisanello. Many sculptors and painters were famous also as medalists, notably Leone Leoni, Benvenuto Cellini, and Albrecht Dürer. France in the 19th cent. became the leader in producing medals of artistic merit. Cast medals were predominant in the 15th cent., but by the 16th had been largely superseded by die-struck medals. Dies may be cut direct, or a wax or plaster model about four times the intended size of the medal may be reproduced as a metal electrotype from which a die is made in the desired size by a reducing machine operating on the principle of the pantograph. See also numismatics; ribbon.
See J. Babelon, Great Coins and Medals (tr. 1959); A. A. Purves, Collecting Medals and Decorations (1987).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.