Jean Cavalier

Jean Cavalier

A portrait medallion of William III of Orange-Nassau, King of England

Portraits in ivory were fashionable in the 17th and 18th centuries. Generally elephant or walrus ivory was used. Since the pieces were limited in size the portraits tended to be small, yet they could still be monumental in form. Ivories were often displayed in glass cases. Sometimes they would have been treated as portable medallions with their own individual cases. This medallion is by Jean Cavalier and was made in ca. 1690. Jean Cavalier (1650/60-1698/9), a Huguenot, was a native of France. He travelled extensively, working as a wax modeler and ivory sculptor, and specializing in portrait medallions. In the 1682/3 he went to London, where he stayed until 1686; he then went to Trier, perhaps Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Hannover, Kassel, and in 1689 to Vienna, Munich and perhaps Dresden. By 1690 he was back in London, where he carved pictures of the King and Queen – of which the present work is a particularly fine example – and was given the passport as the ‘King’s medallist’. He was then at the Danish Court in 1691/3, and from 1694/5-7 in Stockholm, from whence he and his brother Denis, also a sculptor, journeyed as ambassadors on behalf of Sweden to Russia and Persia, where they both died. Cavalier was the most accomplished ivory-carver working in late Stuart England.

The present work, as noted, shows William III of Orange-Nassau (1650 – 1702), who was sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from 1672 and king of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1689, when he invaded the British isles, until his death in 1702. The king is shown in profile, wearing a laurel wreath and an cuirass, both of which are depicted with meticulous detail. A very similar work by Cavalier, also depicting William III and shown below left, is in the collection of the Bode Museum (Berlin), while the V&A Museum (London) holds another portrait medallion of Willem III, by an artist from the circle of Cavalier (shown below right). Other museums with works by Cavalier include the Royal Museum for Art and History (Brussels) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), to name but a few.

Artist: Jean Cavalier (active 1683 - 1699)
Medium: ivory
Dimensions: 6,5 cm diameter
Inscribed: 'GVLIELMVS.III D.G MAG BRIT FR & HIB REX'
Literature: Exposition numismatique, Brussels, Belgian Royal Library, May 1966; catalogue no. 1859, p. 169, illustrated plate no. XVI.