Jean-Baptiste Giard (1932-2018)

by Michel Amandry

May 31, 2018 – Jean-Baptiste Giard received the medal of the Royal Numismatic Society in 1998, after he had retired from the Coin Cabinet of the Bibliothèque Nationale where he had spent all his career. He had joined the ‘heart and centre of French numismatics’ (D. M. Metcalf) in 1961, after completing his university studies at the École des Chartes (promotion 1960). Though his unpublished thesis of the École des Chartes was devoted to L’atelier monétaire de Saint-Quentin aux XIVe et XVe siècles, he became rapidly one of the leading scholars in the field of Roman numismatics (though his interest in the coinages of the Late Middle Ages was unfailing: he published La Monnaie d’Arras (1420-1426) in the RN 1962 and Le florin d’or au Baptiste et ses imitations en France au XIVe siècle in the Bib. de l’Ecole des Chartes 1967, for which he received the Prix Duchalais from the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in 1968).

Jean-Baptiste Giard (1932-2018).

Jean-Baptiste Giard (1932-2018).

Admiring the British ‘school’ and H. Mattingly’s work in particular, he devoted himself to the publication of the catalogue of the Roman imperial coins of the Bibliothèque Nationale which, according to Giard’s own words, are ‘based on Mattingly’s classification’. Volume 1, Augustus, was published in 1976, reprinted in 1988, and a revised edition came out in 2001; volume II, Tiberius to Nero, dates from 1988; volume III, From 68 to Nerva, from 1998. The preparation of these catalogues ‘demanded a sustained level of scholarly judgement and responsibility’ (D. M. Metcalf) and involved visiting many institutions and collections, which Giard did repeatedly.

During these visits, he would also gather material for another project, the catalogue of the mint of Lugdunum, from its opening in 43 BC until the reign of Clodius Albinus (196-197). In doing so, he completed the series initiated by Pierre Bastien, with whom he had a close friendship, probably due to their common roots in the north of France. Des origines au règne de Caligula was published in 1983, and De Claude Ier à Vespasien et au temps de Clodius Albinus in 2000. These two books were characterised by Giard himself as ‘de travail rudimentaire, mais utile je l’espère’. This judgment is of course an understatement: the numismatic community had, and still has, at its disposal a die study of the early production of the mint of Lyon.

Giard had also an important editorial role. He was secretary of the Revue Numismatique from 1962 to 1973, then one of its directors, from 1974 to 1996. From 1961 to 1978, he published almost every year an article in the Revue, mostly dealing with hoards. Thanks to Georges Le Rider, Administrateur général de la Bibliothèque Nationale from 1975 to 1981, he was also able to found a new series, Trésors Monétaires: he edited the first 12 volumes, the first issue being published in 1979. This series is still going on, with issue 27 just published this year. In this series, Giard could record the newly-discovered coin hoards in France in an appropriate way, with excellent illustrations. Thanks to the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Giard was also able to lead a team of French scholars in the project of properly publishing the hoard found at La Venera in 1876, consisting in 45,729 antoniniani and aureliani of the late 3rd century AD. With the co-operation of the Verona museum, six volumes were planned: the first, by S. Estiot (Tacitus and Florian), was published in 1987, the last in 2009 (J. Guillemain on the Roman production of Probus). Volume III, 2, Probus (other mints), is expected quite soon.

Giard also had a deep knowledge of the history of numismatics, from the Renaissance (La numismatique à la Renaissance, NAC 2004) to the XIXth century (L’évolution de la numismatique antique au XIXe siècle, SNR 1986). When he retired, he began the project of writing a book on the Renaissance period, because of his interest in portraiture. He  produced some articles and booklets on portraits ‘où transparait la vie intérieure de l’homme’ (e.g. Le portrait d’autrefois, Paris, 1980), but he did want to tackle ‘la splendide floraison de la Renaissance italienne’. Unfortunately, this book was never published.

Giard’s scientific production was prolific, with more than 130 contributions from 1961 to 1997. His style was very precise and severe. It reflected the man who was very strict, a disposition inherited from his uncle Edouard. He was not gregarious, though he attended International Congresses (Rome in 1961; New York in 1973; London in 1986). When he wanted to replenish his spirit, he used to go to Princeton, where he had met Andreas Alföldi (1895-1981) at the Institute for Advanced Study. Alföldi was his other source of inspiration and he praised ‘son intérêt pour le style des monnaies antiques’. Maybe his eulogy of Alföldi (Journal des savants 1981) can also apply to himself: ‘Grâce à son intelligence du monnayage antique, il a bouleversé bien des préjugés…, ouvrant souvent la voie à des solutions originales et séduisantes’. The Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres did no mistake in awarding him, in 1983, the Prix Allier de Hauteroche ‘pour ses récents travaux sur la numismatique romaine’.

We didn’t find a photo of Jean-Baptiste Giard, but there is a film on the internet dated to 1973 in which Giard gives an overview about numismatics and the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale.

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