The Renaissance coin represents the highest level of art and engraving technique. A real art object capable of expressing all the spirit of humanistic cultural renewal of the time and its consequent creative and artistic flowering.
The “Numismatics | Renaissance” by Cambi Casa d’Aste, in collaboration with Crippa Numismatica and scheduled for Thursday 25 May 2023, offers a detailed and rich overview of Italian Renaissance portraiture and symbology. An extraordinary collection of 62 coins, selected by a refined collector over thirty years, depicting portraits, symbols and allegorical scenes of some of the major Italian lordships of the time, from the Este to the Medici, from the Gonzaga to the Sforza, from the Farnese to the Fieschi .
Indeed, it was precisely during the Renaissance that coins once again performed their function of communication and propaganda, and it was precisely the great dukes who called the best engravers of the time to the mints to portray their faces on the coins issued by their cities, taking as a model the coins of the Roman Empire, the portraits of the emperors and the allegorical figures on the reverse.
A clear example at auction is the magnificent Testone (or Quarto) of Ferrara minted in the early 1500s for Ercole I d’Este (lot 850), with his portrait on the obverse of extraordinary similarity, around the legend in Latin and on the reverse a male figure on horseback as in the Emperor Hadrian’s aurei. According to the scholar Philip Grierson of the University of Cambridge, the depiction of the reverse of this coin is probably inspired by the famous equestrian statue commissioned from Leonardo da Vinci by Hercules’ son-in-law, Ludovico il Moro, to make it a gigantic monument to celebrate his father Francesco Sforza. The clay model of the horse in original size was presented, but unfortunately the definitive statue was never made due to the difficulties Leonardo had in building a seven-meter-high horse that had to be rampant and due to the political adversities that led to the use of bronze intended for the statue to build cannons.
Another extraordinary coin is a very rare Testone minted in Modena by Alfonso I d’Este (lot 882), probably after the reconquest of the city in 1527, which portrays, together with the face of the late duke, on the reverse, the figure of the patron saint of the city , San Geminiano who, in flight, saves a child who has fallen from the tower of the cathedral. The coin is of such outstanding quality that usually unrecognizable characteristics of the very fine engraving are visible.
Altra moneta di grande valore è un Testone di Federico II Gonzaga, 1519-1540 databile prima del 1530, quando Federico Gonzaga viene nominato duca dall’imperatore Carlo V, mentre qui è ancora solo marchese di Mantova, come si legge nella legenda. Sul rovescio l’impresa del Monte Olimpo, tra le preferite del duca, perché il monte Olimpo, come cima inaccessibile, era simbolo della grandezza raggiunta dalla casa Gonzaga attraverso vie impervie e grazie all’aiuto della FIDES, che forse non è solo la fede religiosa, ma anche la fedeltà politica all’imperatore (stima 25.000 – 30.000 euro).
Among the most particular and unpublished coins in the auction, a big head of ALFONSO II D’ESTE, 1559-1597 datable to 1596 (lot 859). Unfortunately, nothing is known about the engraver who produced this magnificent coin. What we appreciate most about this masterpiece is the artist’s ability to have been able to express, both in the bust of Alfonso II and in the representation of the Estense eagle, all the noble power and at the same time the aged weariness of one of the most influential dukes of his house.
Also notable for its beauty is a large head by ALFONSO I D’ESTE, 1505-1534 (lot 852). In this variety of large head the duke is depicted with a short beard. The scene depicted on the reverse, with the legend DE FORTI DVLCEDO (from the strong the sweet), recalls the episode in the life of Samson who he saw coming out of the jaws of a lion who had just killed a swarm of bees and ate their honey. Many interpretations were given: according to Ravegnani, the snake on the trunk would represent the famine and hunger that had struck the State of Ferrara and which the duke, like the swarm of bees symbol of abundance, alleviated with wheat imports from Puglia.
Many of the signatures of great engravers who created some of these coins, such as the Testone di Firenze by Alessandro de’ Medici, 1532-1537, the work of the great sculptor and engraver Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), issued in 1535. For the hairdo of Alessandro this large head was called by the Florentines “hedgehog” and on the reverse it bears the figures of Saints Cosmas and Damian, protectors of the art of doctors and apothecaries and of the Medici family.