A Treasure Worthy to Be Known

by Donatien Grau

Translated from the French and edited by Oliver D. Hoover

Fig. 1. Medal of Henri d’Orléans, duc d’Aumale, by J.C. Chaplain, 1887. © André Pelle, Musée Condé

Who can deny that Henri d’Orléans, duc d’Aumale (1822-1897) (Fig. 1) was a great collector? Or that in his choice of each object, he had exquisite taste? No one. If one thinks that the masterpieces preserved at the château de Chantilly (Figs. 2-3) are the drawings, paintings (Fig. 4), books (Fig. 5), and even the antiques, one could not disagree. However, the numismatic collection of the Musée Condé is often forgotten. The vast majority of this collection was assembled by the duc d’Aumale himself, and, as such, can offer a profound insight into the character of the man and his preferences. The collection is unjustly underrated, in part because in comparison with other forms of art and archaeological material, numismatic objects are not as popular and seem less interesting to the general public. There are no fewer than 4,000 coins in the collection: 251 gold, 2,324 silver, and 1,425 bronzes. Several studies have been made of the contents of the coin cabinet, not the least of which resulted in the catalogue produced in the 1960s by the French numismatist M. Jean Babelon, while serving as Conservateur en Chef du Cabinet des Monnaie et Médailles de la Bibliothèque Nationale de France. This work is remarkable in many ways, but some attributions have changed in the meantime. In 1991, the Conservateurs du Cabinet de la Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Cécile Morrisson, Sylvie de Turckeim-Pey, Michel Amandry, Michel Dhénin, and François Thierry, at the instigation of Turckheim-Pey and Robert Etienne (Université Michel de Montaigne-Bordeaux III), produced a catalogue of sixty-three coins and sixty-eight medals in gold for Le Musée Condé 40 (May 1991). However, the Cabinet numismatique du Musée Condé still is not known in its entirety. It is poorly known to the general public, which is more easily attracted by unique works of art than by reproducible objects created through the use of technology. It is also poorly known to researchers, who do not realize that it is one of the most important numismatic collections in France. Lastly, it is poorly known to those interested in and intrigued by the character of the duc d’Aumale. Unfortunately, we have very few contemporary documents that mention the coins. It is our hope that in the following pages we will help to expand the knowledge of this important collection and show that it offers many points of interest from both the historical perspective and concerning the duc d’Aumale himself.

Fig. 2. Aerial view of the Château de Chantilly. © Olivier Roux, Musée Condé

Fig. 3. The Château de Chantilly. © André Pelle, Musée Condé

Fig. 4. The Galerie de Peinture of the Musée Condé, Château de Chantilly. © Giraudon

Fig. 5. The Cabinet des Livres of the Musée Condé, Château de Chantilly © Giraudon.

The history of the collection is very enigmatic, and the determination of its origins can only be made through conjecture. Some specimens appear to be connected to known finds. For example, among the Roman coins, a group of six gold aurei of Tiberius (AD 14-37) of the same type, and five aurei of Vespasian (AD 69-79) and his son Titus (AD 79-81) (Fig. 6) have a probable hoard provenance (Lefébure et al. 1991, 8). Likewise, a brass sestertius of Marcus Aurelius (Babelon, 1143; RIC 977) remains encrusted with earth. It is tempting to think that the gold coins may have come from the excavations organized at an ancient tavern in Pompeii by Ferdinand II, king of Naples and the Two Sicilies, for the duc d’Aumale in November 1843 (Cazelles 1998, 96-97). The twelve coins are dated from AD 14 to 75 and were in circulation before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24, AD 79. The coins of Tiberius are worn, whereas those of Vespasian and Titus are in better condition, although they too appear to have seen some circulation. Origine des antiques (NA 40-2) cites several pieces—but no coins—in its report on the expedition, but goes on to say that “all of the other objects, bronzes, glass, pottery and diverse objects were found in a house excavated at Pompeii by the duc d’Aumale, with the possible exception of some small finds from the old excavation of Herculaneum.” One wonders whether the “other objects” of Pompeii or the “small finds” of Herculaneum might have had a numismatic character. According to an inventory of 1897, some much later pieces were found at the site of Chantilly, including seven silver coins and an écu d’or of Henri III of France (1574-1589), relating to the period when the site was owned by François and then by Henri de Montmorency (see Lefébure et al. 1991, 3).

Fig. 6. Gold aureus of Titus Caesar, Rome, AD 74.

Another possibility is that the coins were given as gifts to the duc d’Aumale. Perhaps some ancient coins found in excavations were given to him in order to obtain his support. The foreign coins (principally of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as some earlier issues of Germany, Saxony, the Palatinate, the German ecclesiastical and lay princes [Fig. 7], Bavaria, Westphalia, Hungary, the Free Cities, Prussia, Württemberg, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, Russia, Poland, Italy including the Papal States, and England) were, according to A. Lefébure, offered to Henri de Bourbon-Orléans by the allies of his family (Lefébure et al. 1991, 3). However, while this explanation is reasonable for a large number of the coins, it cannot explain them all. Forty-five out of 563 foreign coins have origins outside of Europe. Some are from Columbia, Mexico, and the United States, while still others come from Turkey and Arabia.

Fig. 7. Gold two ducats of Johann Jacob Khün von Belasi, Archbishop of Salzburg, 1570.

A third explanation is also possible, namely that the duc d’Aumale purchased the coins that make up his collection. A. Lefébure thought that the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine coins, as well as the old foreign coins, came from the collection of his father-in-law, the prince of Salerno, which he had purchased in 1854, and that the duc himself assembled the medals preserved at Chantilly (Lefébure et al. 1991, 3). Some specimens do not belong to this group and appear to have been acquired through other means. Some of the Greek coins, like a gold stater of Philip III Arrhidaeus (Fig. 9), may have been purchased individually. Other evidence seems to corroborate the hypothesis of separate acquisitions. There is a receipt for payment to Rollin and Feuardent, dated May 30, 1882. The architect Daumet, who was inter alia an agent of the duc, bought for the collection three Greek vases in bronze. The evidence for this sale permits us to suspect that there may have been other purchases (Cazelles 1998, 193-195). Rollin and Feuardent were the two principal coin dealers of the period, operating their “House of Antiquities.” They are chiefly remembered for selling prestigious coin collections such as that of the vicomte de Ponton d’Amécourt in 1887 or that of Henri Montagu in 1896, but not for their antiquarian activities. That the duc d’Aumale bought coins from them either directly or indirectly seems neither impossible nor improbable. The absence of a paper trail for any coins purchased from Rollin and Feuaredent may be explained by their lesser value. The Greek vases, for which we have the receipt, sold for 20,000 francs (in the period, a little less than 4,000 U.S. dollars).

The origins of the coin cabinet of Chantilly are very complex. Doubtless all three possibilities presented here were in operation to produce the collection of the duc d’Aumale as we know it. As for the coins, there are many reasons why they should be considered a treasure worthy to be known. First of all, there are a number of exceptional specimens present. For example, an antoninianus (a Roman denomination of the third century AD) of Probus (AD 276-282) has a rare obverse type of extraordinary artistic quality (Babelon, 1345; RIC 811). The left facing imperial bust is nude, wears a helmet, and carries a spear in the right hand and a shield with the left. Probus has been cast as a hero and made into a ruler with superhuman qualities. This type of representation, designed to express the power of the emperor, was particularly suited to the period of troubles in which it was produced, as it gave the impression of security. A sestertius of Titus struck to commemorate the apotheosis of his father Vespasian (Babelon, 992; RIC 144) also stands out among the Roman coins. This piece is remarkable for its excellent preservation, rarity, and the typology of the divinized emperor (or a statue representing him) holding Victory and riding in a quadriga of elephants. This image was only used for this series and for a coinage struck by Tiberius to commemorate the consecration of Augustus (see RIC 56, 62, 68).

However, the Roman imperial period is not the only one illustrated by remarkable specimens. For the Byzantine period, the collection includes, among others, a gold solidus of Phocas (602-610) that is one of only four examples known (Lefébure et al. 1991, 12-13, no. 72). It bears a facing bust of the emperor wearing consular robes, holding in his left hand a cross and in his right a mappa (a piece of cloth used to signal the beginning of chariot races in the circus). The representation of the emperor as consul can be traced directly to ancient Rome, which Constantinople superseded. Also notable in the Byzantine collection is a tremissis (a third of a gold solidus) of Justinian II (705-711), which carries a portrait of the emperor wearing a chlamys and on the reverse a cross-potent. This is only the second specimen known (Lefébure et al. 1991, 13, no. 76). Two gold augustales of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II von Hohenstaufen (1197-1250) struck at Brindisi after 1231 (Fig. 8) represent important rare coins of the medieval period (Lefébure et al. 1991, 21, nos. 146-147). The prestigious augustale series was struck in part to illustrate the sensitivity of the Emperor to the ancient Roman past.

Fig 8. Gold augustale of the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich II von Hohenstaufen, Brindisi, 1231-1250.

The greatest pride of the collection is neither Roman, nor Byzantine, nor even medieval, but rather Greek (Lefébure et al. 1991, 7, no. 28). The coin in question (Fig. 9) is a part of a series of Macedonian gold staters with the types of Philip II, the adversary of Demosthenes and the friend of Aeschines. The coin was struck posthumously at Colophon in Lydia between 323 and 316 BC, during the reign of Philip III Arrhidaeus, the brother of Alexander the Great. It bears on the obverse a right-facing laureate head of Apollo and on the reverse a galloping biga with the inscription FILIPPOU (“[money] of Philip”). A spearhead appears in the exergue and a caduceus and a star of eight rays in the field. Until now, this stater has been unpublished. It is the only specimen known with this combination of control marks. The combination is particularly interesting, as it associates divine symbols with military emblems. The star and caduceus are attributes of Hermes, while the spearhead may vaguely allude to the Macedonian empire in Asia, which was considered to be the possession of the Macedonian king through right of conquest. Literally speaking, it was “spear-won land.” This coin represents the achievement of the primordial dream of Hellas: the establishment of Greek civilization in Asia, which resulted in a double acculturation and a double enrichment of Asia through Greece and of Greece through Asia. The stater is also of great interest for its aesthetic order. The head of Apollo that appears on the obverse is very finely engraved and expresses a great serenity. It is a perfect example of Greek art in the greatness of its purity and splendor, representing a bridge between the Classical and Hellenistic styles, between hieratism and expressivity. The god is shown here in all his magnificence, like the Apollonian form defined by Friedrich Nietzsche in Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik as comprising measure, completion, and majestic plasticism. Thus certain coins are exceptional for their historical interest, rarity, and aesthetics.

Fig. 9. Gold stater of Philip III Arrhidaeus, ca. 320 BC.

Historically speaking, the coin cabinet of Chantilly is immensely valuable. It constitutes a unique example of the collection of a nineteenth-century humanist that has remained complete. Many areas of the collection express the humanist tendency, like the impassioned interest brought to the Greek coins (numbering 849) and to the Roman coins (1,448). With respect to the latter, certain groups are typical of the humanist spirit. The duc d’Aumale possessed sixteen bronzes of Nero (see Babelon, 941, 942, 945, 946, 947, 948, 949, 952, 953, 954, 956; RIC 264, 269, 284, 289, 300, 306), representing all of the most important emissions (with the types of Roma, the temple of Janus, Victoria, etc.). The duc’s interest in Neronian coinage stemmed from his erudite reading of the works of Tacitus and Suetonius and his fascination with the fact that the man depicted as a depraved monster by these authors could also be an aesthete responsible for some of the most beautiful coins in numismatic history. Another Tacitean and Suetonian bête noire, Caligula, also has a place in the collection in a bronze as (Babelon, 921; RIC 38), the artistic quality of which is equal to its stellar state of preservation. It seems reasonable to think that this coin was chosen largely because of its attractive appearance. Another feature of the collection is the relative disregard for the state of preservation of individual coins, except for a few notable exceptions. This is in keeping with the spirit of the age, which considered the assembly of a “portrait gallery” to be the paramount goal of coin collecting. The state of preservation was of only secondary importance. Nevertheless, as we have seen, there are several examples of impressively well-preserved coins in the collection, such as the Philip III stater.

The true richness of the coin cabinet of the Musée Condé lies in the fact that while it approaches the humanist model, it also breaks with custom to some degree. The duc d’Aumale collected the coins and medals of his family (Lefébure et al. 1991, nos. 1-52, 58-64, 67-69, 77-78), the Habsburgs (Fig. 10) and Bourbons of Spain and Naples, back to Saint Louis, his ancestor through Robert de Clermont, and at last through his father, Louis-Philippe d’Orléans, French king from 1830 to 1848. Other collectors lacked such ancestors, and therefore did not take this approach to collecting. But it is something else that greatly differentiates the well-known treasures of Chantilly from the numismatic collection assembled by the duc d’Aumale. The latter also included coins of the late Roman Empire (generally the third and fourth centuries), including issues from Probus to Aurelian, a few of Elagabalus, as well as the Empress Helena and Constantine the Great. In the nineteenth century, few collectors paid much attention to the issues of these rulers except for their aurei, solidi, and gold medallions. In the duc’s day, this period was often referred to by the pejorative term “Low Empire,” in contrast to the “High Empire,” with its connotations of the political, economic, and cultural glories of Rome. However, today we know that this is a false understanding created through the distortion of certain texts. More than a fourth of the Roman collection is formed from coins of the “Low Empire,” including only a single specimen (a 20-solidi multiple of Constantine I) in gold (Lefébure et al. 1991, no. 43; RIC 164). (Fig. 11.) The remainder is made up of coins struck in bronze or billon. The duc d’Aumale was a visionary in his time, for he was one of the first collectors to recognize the importance of these unassuming coins, which today are common elements in public and private collections.

Fig. 10. Silver medal of Friedrich von Habsburg, Archduke of Austria, by Saidau, 1840.

Fig 11. Gold 20-solidi medallion of Constantine the Great, Treveri, AD 315.

The numismatic collection of the Musée Condé is truly a treasure worthy to be known in itself and for itself, for its historicity, its particularity, and especially for its coins. It is also a treasure worthy to be known for those who wish a deeper insight into the man, the warlike prince, the humanist warrior, and writer who assembled the collection. What can we learn of the character of Henri d’Orléans, duc d’Aumale, from the coins he collected?

First of all, it is clear that the love of his family mattered very much to him and that this translated into the coins and medals that he acquired. The Bourbons always had a strong sense of family and dynastic relationships, and the feelings of the duc were terribly tested. His elder son, the prince de Condé, died on May 24, 1866; his daughter, Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Naples, on December 6, 1869; and his younger son, the duc de Guise, on July 25, 1872 (Cazelles 1998, 278-281, 341-343). These personal tragedies inspired in the duc d’Aumale a passion for collecting anything connected to his family, from the closest (sixty-five Spanish coins) to the most distant (seven coins of Wittelsbach in the duchy, later the kingdom, of Bavaria). Somewhat obliquely, he also commemorated the great deeds of his father, Louis-Philippe, by collecting coins and medals of Napoleon Bonaparte and his family. He even possessed a medal of Jerome Napoleon as king of Westphalia. It was Louis-Philippe who repatriated the remains of Napoleon and had them interred in the Hôtel des Invalides. He was the first French monarch to recognize the importance of the Napoleonic heritage of his country. Among the gold medals in the collection there is a specimen of Louis-Philippe bearing on the obverse a statue of Bonaparte between two military attributes, and on the reverse the inscription: LA STATUE DE NAPOLEON RETABLIE SUR LA COLONNE DE LA GRANDE ARME PAR LOUIS PHILIPPE I 28 JULLIETT 1833 in eight lines (Lefébure et al. 1991, no. 63). Honor is explicitly given to Napoleon, but implicitly to the duc’s father Louis-Philippe, who accepted the imperial past of France. It is as a member of the family that the gold medals (Lefébure et al. 1991, nos. 55-57) in the cabinet of the duc d’Aumale render homage to Napoleon. All three relate to Napoleon’s marriage to Marie-Louise von Habsburg, the archduchess of Austria, in 1810, and were struck to commemorate this occasion. It is the connection of the Bonaparte dynasty to the family of hereditary European sovereigns that was celebrated on the medals, and it was because of this integration that the duc d’Aumale saw fit to include medals of Napoleon Bonaparte. As diverse branches of the same great family, he collected marriage and coronation medals, in particular those commemorating the union of Franz I of Austria and Caroline Charlotte of Wittelsbach in 1816 (Lefébure et al. 1991, nos. 23-26). Whether these medals and coins were given to the duc d’Aumale, as has been suggested, and he carefully preserved them, or whether he sought them out on his own makes no difference to the familial motive that underlies their inclusion in the collection.

The numismatic collection also illustrates the remarkable eclecticism of the duc d’Aumale, because the coins expand the whole of the fields explored by the Condé museum. The drawings are enjoyed, the pages of the books are turned, paintings are admired. But what of the coins? With respect to art, the aristocrat of Chantilly had a taste for the works of Raphael, Delacroix, Poussin, Sassetta, Fra Angelico, and the Limbourg brothers. (Fig. 12.) But what of Apollo? What of the numerous talented artists who produced the medals in the collection, such as Nicholas-Pierre Tiolier or Friedrich Wilhelm Loos (Lefébure et al. 1991, no. 43), famous sculptors and engravers of the nineteenth century? They also form part of the eclecticism of the duc d’Aumale, which is present in the collection at large. Instead of centering interest on antiquity, as was then the custom among the esthetes, the collection cultivates multiplicity: a multiplicity of antiquities from Greece and from Rome, a multiplicity of Renaissance and early Modern artworks by Italian, Dutch, Belgian, Spanish, and German masters, and a multiplicity of coins in gold and silver. A multiplicity of cultures is also represented, including nine Islamic gold coins (Lefébure et al. 1991, nos. 165-173) of the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt, the Aghlabids of North Africa, and the Ottoman Empire. The eclecticism of periods ranges from the fifth century BC for certain coins of Sicily (Fig. 13) to AD 1887 for a medal (Lefébure et al. 1991, no. 66). The eclecticism is that of a man who had a taste for Fromentin as much as for Memling, for Giorgione as much as for Daubigny, and for Apollo as much as for Tiolier.

Fig. 12. Miniature from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry by the Limbourg Brothers, ca. 1410.

Fig. 13. Silver tetradrachm of Leontini (Sicily), ca. 465 BC.

The duc d’Aumale had a multiplicity of collecting areas, ranging from books to drawings, antiquities, and coins. He turned toward Greek and Roman culture by means of the coins (more than half of the collection), choosing beautiful pieces (the Philip III stater), representatives of a period (issues of the late Roman Empire), as well as material with appeal to his humanistic studies (the homogeneous group of Neronian bronzes). However, even if these were part of the collection of Salerno, the eclecticism must still be attributed to the collection of the duc, since he retained them for his own collection when he could have resold them, as he did other objects from the Salerno collection in 1857 (Cazelles 1998, 195). The fact that he kept these pieces for himself indicates that he attached a certain importance to them. This is supported by their prominent display among the objets d’art in cabinets of gems and antiquities. The taste for numismatics was typical of Renaissance humanists. Their “cabinets of curiosities” were also coin cabinets, and each prince had his coins in the cabinet, continuing the renewed taste for antiquity. The house of Este in Ferrara even went so far as to carefully mark its specimens with the heraldic alérion blazon, while Cosimo de’ Medici included a Cabinet of Curiosities in the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence. The number of examples of this phenomenon may be multiplied. Originally, the study of numismatics was a prerogative of humanist princes and therefore it is fitting that the duc d’Aumale, a latter-day humanist prince in his own right, also should have had an interest in coins.

The coin cabinet of the duc d’Aumale in the Musée Condé is truly a treasure worthy to be known, although developing general interest in its contents seems a difficult task, for few are the individuals who care about such objects. The coins that make it up are in themselves representatives of history and art, the sensitivities of human beings who have fulfilled the spans of their lives, the traces and almost intangible marks that remain of a great man, an esthete, a prince, a writer, and a warrior, who entered into eternity through the gate of combat and went out through that of knowledge, the knowledge of humanism and numismatics. Marcel Proust, in Sodome et Gomorrhe (II, 2) mentioned the collections, writing, “M. Degas agrees that he knows nothing more beautiful than the paintings by Poussin at Chantilly. —I don’t know the ones at Chantilly, Mme de Cambremer said to me.” The works of Poussin were worthy to be known, and they are known. The coins and medals are equally worthy to be known. We hope that they will become known.


We wish to thank here Nicole Garnier, Chief Conservator at the Musée Condé, who generously and kindly opened the Cabinet to us, as well as her colleagues Lynda Frénois and Florent Picouleau, and Michel Amandry, Director of the Cabinet de Monnaies et Médailles de la Bibliothèque Nationale de France, who aided our research on the collections of the Cabinet.


Babelon, J. Catalogue des monnaies du Musée Condé. Unpublished manuscript in the Musée Condé. (abbreviated as Babelon).

Cazelles R. Le duc d’Aumale, prince aux dix visages. Paris: Tallandier, 1998.

Lefébure, A., et al. Le Musée Condé 40 (May 1991).

Mattingly, H., E. Sydenham, and C. H. V. Sutherland, eds. Roman Imperial Coinage. London: Spink, 1923-1994 (abbreviated as RIC).

Proust, M. A la recherche du temps perdu. Vol. 4, Sodome et Gomorrhe. Paris: Edition de la Pléiade, 1988.