On November 8 and 9, 2023, a new Live Auction in collaboration with Crippa Numismatica will be held at the Milan headquarters of Cambi Aste d’Arte: the panorama offered in the two proposed catalogs spans the entire scope of medieval and modern Italian numismatics, as well as some lots of foreign and Far Eastern coins and paper money. In particular, the first part of the Auction, for sale on Nov. 8 and the morning of Nov. 9, includes about 3,000 coins from many Italian mints catalogued according to the order of the Corpus Nummorum Italicorum. There are numerous pieces of great rarity and artistic merit.
Standing out among the gems of the Italian Renaissance is the silver testament of Ercole I d’Este (1471-1505) with the hydra (lot no. 418), issued by the mint of Ferrara on the occasion of important urban planning works ordered by the duke in 1492: the siege suffered by Ferrara in 1484 in the war against Venice had in fact highlighted its defensive weakness and the need to provide the city with a new city wall. The duke therefore decided to commission the court architect Biagio Rossetti to design a more modern arrangement of the city: thus was born that ambitious project of an ideal city known by the name of Addizione Erculea, which for the originality of its conception is considered as one of the most important urban planning works of the Renaissance and which made Ferrara “the first modern city in Europe.”
The urban area, with the new walls, was more than doubled, with a northward extension intended to incorporate some prestigious ducal palaces that in medieval Ferrara stood beyond the city’s perimeter. The Giovecca ditch was buried and covered by a wide road that joined the old part of the city to the new; for the latter, an orthogonal road network was designed, following the example of the Roman castrum, with two long roads running one from south to north and the other from east to west.
Unlike the ancient Roman cities, which placed the forum at the crossroads of the two main axes, in Ferrara Rossetti preferred to decentralize the market area (called Piazza Nova, today Piazza Ariostea) and to allocate the meeting point between the two main streets, called the Quadrivio degli Angeli, to house important palaces: thus arose the Palazzo Prosperi-Sacrati, the Palazzo dei Diamanti and the Palazzo Turchi di Bagno, the latter two by Biagio Rossetti himself. The new part of the city, still called Arianuova, is characterized by wide streets, squares and extensive green areas, contrasting with the medieval part, with its maze of narrow, winding streets. The Addizione Erculea was completed in 1510, a few years after the death of the duke after whom it was named; in 1995 UNESCO proclaimed it a World Heritage Site.
Coinciding with the beginning of the work of the Addizione Erculea, the Ferrara mint issued, in 1492 or 1493, a splendid silver testone worth 12 soldi, whose anepigraphic reverse field is completely occupied by a seven-headed hydra, i.e., the venomous monster that, according to Greek myth, terrorized the city of Lerna in Argolis and was slain by Heracles in one of his twelve labors. The feat of the hydra was a favorite of the Este dukes: already featured on the miniatures of Borso d’Este’s Bible and on the walls of the Sala delle Imprese in Palazzo Schifanoia, it was also frescoed at the behest of Hercules I in the church of San Cristoforo alla Certosa. Depicted on this coin was perhaps meant to allude to malaria, which was eradicated by the reclamation works ordered by Ercole I on the area of the Addizione destination. It is speculated that the author of this prestigious coin was the engraver Giannantonio da Foligno, to whom many other Ferrara coins are owed.
The last auction round, scheduled for the afternoon of Nov. 9, is dedicated to the second Cambi-Crippa catalog, which includes a prestigious collection of coins of the House of Savoy. Prominent in the extensive gallery of portraits of the Savoy dukes in this collection are the faces of two duchesses, Christina Marie of Bourbon-France and Marie Jeanne Baptiste of Savoy-Nemours, who were called upon to rule the Savoy state during the minority of their sons. A serious dynastic situation in fact characterized the history of the Savoy duchy throughout the seventeenth century, when three times child princes had to pass from the games to the throne due to the sudden death of their parent. The event was not even that exceptional at a time when life expectancy was quite low not only in the less affluent classes, but also in noble families: wars, plagues, diseases, as well as vices, excesses, and palace conspiracies killed sovereigns who were often still young, creating problems for their succession.
In 1637 the death of the 50-year-old duke Victor Amadeus I left the Savoy throne without an heir of age. The widowed duchess Christina Maria of Bourbon-France (1606-1663) immediately assumed the regency on behalf of her eldest son Francis Hyacinth, only five years old; but the little prince’s fragile constitution snuffed him out after a few months, and the crown passed to his younger brother, who ascended the throne as Charles Emmanuel II, still under his mother’s guardianship.
Daughter of the powerful Henry IV of France and Marie de’ Medici and sister of Louis XIII, the beautiful and young Christina liked to call herself the Madama Reale to emphasize her noble origins: a woman of great ambition and political dexterity, she was able to hold the fortunes of the state despite the attacks and flattery of those who hoped to take advantage of this moment of weakness to seize the Duchy of Savoy. Even after her son Charles Emmanuel II was proclaimed an adult in 1648, Christina continued to intervene in the management of political affairs virtually until her death in 1663.
The coins of the two regencies of Christina of France retain the same obverse coinage, on which the duchess’s profile is depicted next to that of her son. Offered in our upcoming auction is the splendid four gold scudi piece dated 1641 (lot no. 1097), issued in the Turin mint and the work of engraver Stefano Mongino, a native of Soriso near Lake Orta, to whom is also attributed the famous carlin with compass of Charles Emmanuel I of Savoy.
In 1675 a sudden death also crushed Charles Emmanuel II still in the prime of his life, and the problem of succession reopened for the Savoy duchy, as the only heir was the infant Victor Amadeus, only nine years old. Again the regency was assumed by his mother Maria Giovanna Battista of Savoy-Nemours (1644-1724), the second Madama Reale, whom we see depicted next to her son on three coins for sale at auction, a gold double dated 1679 (lot no. 1098), a half double also in gold dated 1676 (lot no. 1099) and a silver shield dated 1680 (lot no. 1100): on the gold coins the duchess is veiled as a sign of widowhood. The coinage was executed by engraver Michele La Fontaine.
Daughter of Charles Amadeus of Savoy-Nemours and Elizabeth of Bourbon-Vendôme, Marie Jeanne Baptiste was the second wife of Charles Emmanuel II; driven by great ambition, she sought to retain the regency of the duchy even after Victor Amadeus II came of age. It was not until 1684, with the proclamation of Rivoli, that the duke was able to assume direct rule of the state. Ostracized from political life, the cultured and refined Maria Giovanna Battista decided to continue to patronize the arts and letters as she had already done during her regency: she had a number of churches built, favored the expansion of Turin, and called the architect Filippo Juvarra to modernize the castle of Turin, her residence, which she named Palazzo Madama after her.