JEAN DESIRE RINGEL D'ILLZACH (Alsace 1847 - 1916 Strasbourg)

Ferdinand de Lesseps (Versailles 1805 - 1894 Guilly)

Cast bronze with reddish brown patina
Diameter: 7 inches (17.8 cm)
Signed Ringel. Sc., located Suez-Panama and dated 1884

As indicated by the medal’s prominent inscriptions, French diplomat and administrator Ferdinand de Lesseps is perhaps best known as the developer of the Suez Canal, which in 1869 joined the Mediterranean and Red Seas, and for his dogged, albeit unsuccessful, efforts in the 1880s to build the Panama Canal, a project that was completed in 1914. 

Born in Versailles in 1805 to a family of career diplomats, Ferdinand Marie, Vicomte de Lesseps, continued the family tradition with early diplomatic postings to Lisbon, Tunis, and Alexandria, where he initially got the idea to construct a canal through the Isthmus of Suez. After appointments in Rotterdam, Málaga, Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome, De Lesseps retired from the diplomatic service. He returned to Alexandria in 1854, shortly after the accession to the viceroyalty of Said Pasha, whom he had befriended during his tenure there in the 1830s, and whom he soon convinced to authorize the construction of the Suez Canal, an enormous project for which De Lesseps served as administrator—organizing the political, financial, and technical support—until its opening in November 1869. 

In May 1879 De Lesseps was appointed President of the Panama Canal Company to supervise the construction of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama, a project that was plagued by epidemics of malaria and yellow fever as well as technical and financial problems. The Panama Canal Company declared bankruptcy in 1888, and De Lesseps was later found guilty of mismanagement. 

De Lesseps was head of the Franco-American Union in 1884, when he formally presented Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty to the United States, and he spoke at its dedication ceremony in New York in 1886. He died in 1894 and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. 

Jean Ringel d’Illzach was an Alsatian sculptor and medallist born in 1847 in Illzach, near Mulhouse. A student of Falguière at the École des Beaux-Arts, Ringel quickly became a member of the Parisian avant-garde, whose members included Auguste Rodin and Alexandre Charpentier, among many others. A bit like David d’Angers, Ringel produced two series of cast portrait medals of the significant cultural figures of his day, representing such giants as Rodin, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas fils, Charles Gounod and Louis Pasteur. 

Ringel also achieved great success as a most innovative sculptor, working in bronze, ceramic and colored wax. His work can be viewed in museums like the J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.