Lysippus Und Seine Freunde: Liebesgaben Und Gedächtnis Im Rom der Renaissance, Oder: Das Erste Jahrhundert der Medaille/Renaissance Medals Vol. 1, Italy, and Vol. 2, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and England

Article excerpt

ULRICH PFISTERER Lysippus und seine Freunde: Liebesgaben und Gedächtnis im Rom der Renaissance, oder: Das Erste Jahrhundert der Medaille Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2008. 490 pp., 10 color ills., 200 b/w. euro79.80

JOHN GRAHAM POLLARD Renaissance Medals Vol. 1, Italy, and vol. 2, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and England Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2007. vol. 1, 727 pp., 596 b/w ills., vol. 2, 982 pp., 361 b/w ills, each $99.00

One of the most distinctive of the new artistic forms to emerge in fifteenth-century Italy, the portrait medal was also one of the most implicated in die ideology of a renaissance: an entirely new kind of artifact, one that encouraged experiment and innovation, yet underwritten by a principle of conformity with the classical past. While the medal evoked the precedent of ancient coins, long studied and collected by scholars (like Petrarch) and by princes, it was not intended to be taken as ancient.' In its size, in die increasing sophistication of its text/ image interplay, in the insistent modernity of the subjects' costumes and hairstyles, the work of die great medalists Pisanello. Sperandio. Cristoforo da Geremia, Gian Cristoforo Romano, and Camello serves as a reminder that the cult of antiquity was no mere production of replicas but involved the making of new kinds of crafted objects that constantly speak of their difference from the works of the ancients and. ultimately, of the unbridgeable gap between the idealized past and the mutable present.

Pisanello's famous image, usually dated 1438-39, of the Byzantine Emperor John VIII Palaelogus, the modern bearer of an ancient title inscribed in Greek ("king and Emperor of the Romans"), presents die essential characteristics of die genre, which condenses the idiom of naturalistic portraiture, die craft of cast metal (usually bronze) relief, and the allusive reverse, where words are combined with images to convey the sitter's character or distinguishing acts. Prominently signed with the formula "opus," the medal constructed its maker as an author figure and, implicitly, as the instigator of the work. Medals could certainly be commissioned, like any other manufactured object, but some medalists inscribed die medal as "dedicated" or "consecrated" by themselves to dieir subject; a not inconsiderable number of these, in fact, were not professional artists but papal secretaries, clerics, and courtiers. Clearly, the medal was perceived to be something more than a luxury artistic commodity.

It is fair to say diat medals have largely been the object of specialist attention in the history of art: relatively litde scholarship on medals has appeared, or been reviewed, in the Art Bulletin. Until recendy, and much more dian with prints and drawings, it is as if these preeminendy collectible objects have remained in the rarefied world of collectors and dealers: in its earlier form, the National Gallery catalog of Renaissance medals was commissioned from the great numismatist and medal specialist George F. Hill by Joseph Duveen. who paid for its publication by Oxford University Press. Within the past two decades, however - with the rise of scholarly interest in court culture. with more sophisticated models for thinking about Renaissance portraiture, and partly as a result of die stimulus generated by word and image studies - things began to look a good deal more promising, with die 1994 exhibition The Currency of Fame at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.. die related volume Perspectives on the Renaissance Medal (2000),'"' the foundation of ajournai called the Medal, and a series of publications by Joanna Woods-Marsden, Luke Syson, Louis Waldman, John Cunnally, Philip Atiwood, Arne Platen, Sean Keilen, Georg Satzinger, and others, often within mainstream art historical, rather than specialist, books and periodicals. Pollard's 2007 twovolume catalog of the National Gallery collection is not conspicuously responsive to these developments. …