Two Interesting Medals
The Italian sculptor Antonio Pisano (c.1395-1455), commonly known as Pisanello, held a very prominent spot in the Italian art community of his time. Pisanello was a leading proponent of the international Gothic style. This gifted artist pioneered the style of artistic and poetic realism in the era immediately preceding Leonardo Da Vinci. He was much sought after in the courts of Mantua and Ferrara and by the newly crowned Alfonso V, the King of Naples. It was therefore no surprise that Pisanello was chosen to produce a special medal on the occasion of the visit of John VIII Paleologus, the second to last Byzantine Emperor.
Byzantine Coin of John VIII
Silver 1/2 Hyperpyron: S.2563
John VIII came to Italy in search of aid for his empire which was under extreme pressure from the Turks. He sought an alliance that would not only be political but also religious in nature. To the astonishment of the Italians and the folks back home John VIII offered to accept the Roman Pope, renounce Eastern Orthodoxy and unite the competing churches under one head.
John VIII reasoned that Byzantium was the only bulwark left preventing the Turks and Islam from overrunning the West, and therefore the West would come to his aid in enlightened self interest. John was greeted like a rock star wherever he went, and gala receptions awaited him on every part of his trip. He departed Italy with the assurance that aid was on the way to Constantinople. When he returned to Constantinople he found the country in a major uproar because of his renouncement of Orthodoxy. John VIII abdicated his throne and he and his wife both entered the monastic life. Even worse, the promised aid never arrived and John VIII's successor (and brother), Constantine XI Paleologus, died on the walls on May 28, 1453 defending it from Mehmet II and his soon to be victorious army. Constantine XI was the last of the Byzantine emperors. One wonders what would have happened had the promised aid arrived; our history would certainly have been changed.
All Renaissance medals of this time were cast instead of being struck as the technology didn't exist to strike such a massive (four inches across) medal. The medal featured in the gallery image is made from a cast of an original medal, no doubt based on the lost wax method of duplication. The original medals are extremely rare and I am therefore quite fortunate to have a copy complements of a "Buy Now" on Amazon.com.
US Mint Medal: Dr. David Hosack
I do love medals - if I didn't collect Byzantine Coinage I'm sure I would be a medal nut. I try to keep my eye out for inexpensive yet interesting bronzes. I was fortunate enough to be offered a neat medal which I thought would have been perfect for my wife Suzanne's music collection as it had a harp on the reverse. It is a bronzed proof of a gentleman by the name of Dr. David Hosack, and is about 33mm.
Neither I nor the seller knew who this Dr. David Hosack was, but the wonderful bust right obverse with a huge die break and the fact that it was a bronzed proof medal made it an excellent acquisition for me to give Suzanne as a gift.
The reverse of the medal features the inscription "Arts and Science" along with the tools and symbols of the arts and sciences of the time; the caduceus of a doctor, the palette of a painter, the harp of a musician, and the square and divider of the surveyor to name a few. Below was inscribed "FURST.F", short for the Latin "Furst Fecit" (Furst Made It), the name of the medal's engraver..
I became quite intrigued by the medal and tried to do some research but kept running into dead ends. So I put it away for a while and just enjoyed it for what it was - a beautiful numismatic item for my collection.
Fast forward a few months. I was trying to eliminate some of the auction catalogues that were taking up way too much shelf and storage space. I decided to peruse each one and see if they contained anything I could use for research. So one by one I turned the pages. I hit a Stack's auction catalogue and lo and behold, the image of "my" medal hit me square in the face - finally, some information on the piece that I could use.
It turns out that the medal is a U.S. Mint product engraved by Moritz Furst and struck c.1820. Moritz Furst was born in Hungary in 1782 and studied at Vienna and Milan. In 1807 he went to the United States and was appointed Engraver at the Mint of Philadelphia, where he served from 1808 until 1838. His series of 27 medals, commemorating American successes during the war between England and the United States from 1812 to 1815, were struck by special resolution of Congress (see "Weiss Collection of Medalists" link below).
Furst was a good friend of Dr. Hosack. One could surmise that it is a bit over the top to strike a medal for one's friend if one didn't know a bit of background on Dr. Hosack. It turns out he was quite a famous man. Dr. Hosack was the first American physician to use a stethoscope; he also founded Belleview Hospital in New York City. Another incident that propelled him into the spotlight also was as a result of his profession as a physician.
It seems Dr. Hosack was the physician in attendance at the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and the second Vice-President of the United States, Aaron Burr, at Weehawken, New Jersey on July 11, 1804 in which Mr. Hamilton was fatally wounded. Mr. Burr lived till September 14, 1836.
There is much in the history of this period that sparks further investigation, but we are talking about a medal for now. I always am happy when serendipity enters the research picture. This is a much more meaningful find for me because of the tie to early American history as well as the search for answers. Oh by the way, I selfishly "black holed" the medal. Sorry Suzanne.
Note: The images on this page can be clicked to view larger versions.
Click Here to Begin the Tour of the Medals
All photos in the gallery were taken by Howard.
References and sources for more information:
Pisanello's Medallion of The Emperor John VIII Palaeologus, Roberto Weiss, Published by the Trustees of the British Museum, 1966.
Lewis and Clark Journey of Discovery
New York Public Library Digital Gallery
Weiss Collection of Medalists
United States Coin and Paper Money featuring selections from The Dr. Alfred R. Globus Collection, Stacks Auction House, June 9-10, 1999.
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