Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dassier, James Anthony

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DASSIER, JAMES ANTHONY (1715–1759), medallist, was born at Geneva on 15 Nov. 1715, and was (according to Fuessli, &c.) the son of John Dassier [q. v.] Walpole (Anecdotes) and the editors of the ‘Medallic Illustrations’ state that he was John Dassier's nephew, a statement which seems to rest on a confused passage in George Vertue's manuscript notes. He received his first lessons in drawing and engraving from his father, and at seventeen was sent to Paris for instruction from Germain the goldsmith. In 1736 he went to Italy. He stayed at Rome for one year (1737), studied art, and made a medal of Pope Clement XII. At Turin he took the portrait of the king of Sardinia in wax, completing it as a medal on his return to Geneva, where he remained for some time as an assistant to his father. In 1740 Dassier came to England, and there printed proposals for making medals of distinguished living Englishmen. The subscription was four guineas for a set of thirteen medals, or 7s. 6d. for single specimens. The dies were engraved in London, but the medals were struck off at Geneva, ‘because (says G. Vertue) here is not engines allowed for that purpose, or because it is cheaper.’ The following is an alphabetical list of Dassier's English medals; they have a bust for the obverse, and almost invariably, for the reverse, an inscription in an ornamental border: Duke of Argyle, 1743; Robert Barker, President of Royal Society, 1744; Sir John Barnard, 1744; Archdeacon Brideoake, rev. church of St. Mary, Southampton [1743?]; Carteret, 1744; Lord Chesterfield, 1743; Martin Folkes, the antiquary, 1740 [‘done very like him,’ G. Vertue]; Sir A. Fountaine, 1744; Edmund Halley, 1744; Duke of Marlborough, 1742; Abraham de Moivre, 1741; John, duke of Montagu, rev. Good Samaritan, 1751; Alexander Pope, 1741; Pulteney, 1744; Sir Hans Sloane, 1744; Sir Robert Walpole, 1744; William Windham, rev. ‘Officii et augurii causa fecit J. Dassier,’ 1742; ‘State of England’ medal, 1750—obv. bust of George II, rev. Britannia, Mercury, &c.; Frederick, Prince of Wales, rev. genii supporting coronet [1750?]. In 1741 Dassier was appointed assistant engraver to the English mint, with a salary of 200l. a year and a lodging. The duties were very light. He visited Geneva in 1743 (again in 1745) and, on his way, at Paris, made a wax portrait of Montesquieu, from the life, producing a medal from it in 1753. About 1756, George II permitted him to leave England for St. Petersburg, where he worked on the coinage of the empress Elizabeth, and made medals of Count Schouwalow and of the empress. The Russian climate affected his health during his three years' stay, and he was returning to England, when he died at Copenhagen, in the house of Count Bernstorf, on 2 Oct. 1759. The statement in the ‘Medallic Illustrations’ (ii. 723; cf. Blavignac, Armorial genevois, 313–14) that he died in 1780 seems erroneous. Dassier was a less rapid and prolific workman than his father John, but his medals are better executed, though he seldom attempts elaborate reverse designs. His signatures are I. [or J.] A. Dassier; I. Dassier (rare); Ja. Ant. Dassier; A. Dassier; A. Das.

[Hawkins's Med. Illust. of Hist. of Gt. Brit. ed. Franks and Grueber, ii. 723, &c.; G. Vertue's MS. ‘Memorials of Arts,’ Brit. Mus., 23079, pp. 13 b, 14 a, 35 b; Walpole's Anecd. of Painting (Wornum); Ruding's Annals of the Coinage, i. 45; Fuessli's Geschichte der besten Künstler in der Schweitz, iv. 140–5; Haller's Schweizerisches Münz- und Medaillen Kabinet; Senebier's Hist. litt. de Genève, iii. 315–16; Bolzenthal's Skizzen, 258; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists of Eng. School; Nagler's Künstler-Lexikon; medals in Brit. Mus.]

W. W.