Florence – Uffizi Gallery – Coins And Medals

A VALUABLE collection of coins and medals is likewise kept in a room within the offices of the Director of the Museum.

The early Etruscan coin and weights were represented by the same pieces of bronze, called sgravi; and these were divided according to their value into quadrantes, unciales, &c. ; a wheel, such as may have been observed frequently occurring on Etruscan monuments, is found upon these coins. The sgravi are rudely manufactured and in strange contrast with the delicate workmanship bestowed on Etruscan ornaments. They probably date from a very early period, as the gold and silver coin of Etruria in the Etruscan Museum are equal to Greek.

Two of the largest sgravi are round, the other oblong ; they appear to have belonged to a seaport town, as, besides the wheel, one has an anchor, and another the trident of Neptune, as well as the caduceus of Mercury. The head of Janus with the prow of a ship is common, and is appropriate for a commercial people. Minerva is occasionally substituted for Janus ; Mercury, and the thunderbolt of Jove, composed of the three metals, and first devised in Fiesole, are likewise found on these coins : a vase, a horse, a man on horseback, a cockle-shell, and an ear of wheat are very usual symbols. On a later Etruscan coin, and from another part of Italy, the elephant is. admirably represented, with a Moor’s head on the reverse.

The first gold florin was coined A.D. 1252. It continued in circulation and maintained its credit in Europe until the fall of the Republic. On one side is the lily, on the other St. John the Baptist. Its nominal value at that time was equal to five francs of the present day, but five francs were then worth twelve francs of our money. So high was the reputation of the Florentine gold florin, that various sovereigns forged and circulated counterfeits ; among these were the popes when at Avignon, the princes of Dauphiné, and the kings of Hungary. The Florentine Government appointed six persons at a time to superintend the coinage at the Zecca, or Mint, changing them every six months. A certain amount of bullion was confided to them, for which they were responsible. In 1352 the presidents of these Zecchieri, or officers of the Mint, were granted the privilege of adding the marks or badges of their families to the coin, and these were placed to the left of the head of St. John the Baptist. The pear of the Peruzzi, the sail of the Rucellai, &c., may be seen on the old florins of the Republic.

Before the issue of the gold florin, silver alone had been used .as a medium. The earliest silver coin bears the head of Charlemagne ; the next has a half-length figure of St. John the Baptist. In 1316 the Florentines elected one Lando da Gubbio with the title of Bargello, to whom they confided the government. Lando soon proved himself unworthy, and was dis-missed in 1317 ; but during his administration he had circulated an adulterated coin, which he placed at the nominal value of five denari, and which were popularly known as Bargellini. After Lando’s fall these were called in, and a new coin -struck, valued at thirty denari, and called a Guelfo, after the party which then ruled the State. In 1400 small copper coins were in circulation, called piccioli.

The first head represented on a coin since the days of Charlemagne was that of Duke Alexander de’ Medici, when the florin was called testone. It was designed by Benvenuto Cellini, and has on the reverse the figures of St. Cosimo and St. Damian, the patron saints of the Medici, in place of St. John the Baptist. A four-florin piece of the year 1531 represents the Baptism of Christ, and the same device was adopted for the silver coin.

The first gold coin of the reign of the Grand Duke Cosimo, I. has his head, and, on the reverse, the Last Judgment. It was called a lira, and was struck in 1559. The name lira—Libra—was derived from the Roman weight, and had before this been applied to an imaginary coin of the same value ; but it now for the first time was used for a gold piece. In 1550 the device was changed to St. Cosimo and St. John the Baptist. On some of Cosimo’s coins the Wolf of Sienna is represented, marking the period of his conquest of the city which is supposed to have been founded by the sons of Remus after their father had been slain by Romulus. In 1585, during the reign of the Grand Duke Francis I., and perhaps in compliment to that sovereign, St. Francis takes the place of St. Cosimo and St. John the Baptist.

Among the silver coins in this collection, two of those which bear the head of the Grand Duke Ferdinand I. have been recently discovered to be hollow, and to open as boxes. In one of these was found the miniature of a gentleman in the dress of a courtier of Louis XIV. of France, painted on copper in oil—the usual Florentine practice : and resembling an indifferent copy of a portrait of Prince Charles the Great of Lorraine, in this Gallery, though the larger picture represents a man at a more advanced period of life. The inference is, that this miniature was the likeness of the same prince in his youth, taken in Florence. The Grand Duchess Margaret of Orleans, the wife of the bigoted Cosimo III., was attached before her marriage to Prince Charles. He followed her to the Tuscan Court, where they continued secret lovers ; and, after he left Florence, the con-duct of the Grand Duchess became so eccentric that her husband sent her back to France, where she ended her days. She had probably concealed this miniature in a coin, and it had. thus been lost.

A rich collection of medals from all parts of Italy fill several cabinets in the Coin Room. A large bronze medal, by Antonio Pollajoli, commemorates the Pazzi conspiracy ; on one side is the head of Lorenzo, and below him the choir of the cathedral,. as it then stood, with columns around, and a low parapet ; within this enclosure the religious service was performing when the Pazzi attacked the two young Medici ; Lorenzo is seen making his escape ; the motto is Salus Publica. On the reverse is the head of Giuliano, and the choir again, with the scene of his murder, and the motto Lucius Publicus.

A beautiful silver medal, imitated from a Greek coin, re-presents Lorenzo later in life.

A medal by Giuliano Francesco di San Gallo, in 1532, represents Giovanni delle Bande Nere, though struck twenty years after his death.

A head of Duke Alexander is by Francesco Girolamo of Prato ; it is in very high relief, and has a rhinoceros on the reverse, with the motto Non Buelvo sin vincer. Another medal has the profile of Alexander on one side, and of Duke Cosimo, with the Golden Fleece, on the other; and was probably struck when Cosimo received the Order from the, Emperor Charles V. There is also a medal struck in honour of Charles V., and on the reverse the Combat of the Giants with Jupiter, the work of Leone Leoni, of Arezzo.

A medal of Cosimo I., by Domenico di Polo, has on the reverse his arms, the capricorn; Domenico was noted for his skilful imitation of the antique ; he was a pupil of the more celebrated gem-cutter, Giovanni delle Corniole. The Capricorn adopted by the Grand Duke Cosimo was the device of Augustus, and is often seen on gems. It was considered one of the most auspicious constellations, and emperors, kings, and persons destined to fill high places, were said always to have been born. under the rising of the third degree of Capricorn.

Another medal represents Cosimo attired as a Roman conqueror, in a quadriga, before Sienna ; Victory is crowning him. This medal was designed by Domenico Romano.

A large gilt medal with ships belongs to Liguria or Genoa, and is of the time of Duke Cosimo I.

A silver medal bears the portrait of Eleanora of Toledo, the wife of Cosimo, and has a peacock on the reverse ; on another silver medal Cosimo is represented in armour, receiving his generals ; there is a still more interesting medal of Cosimo when young, by Benvenuto Cellini.

Leone Leoni, of Arezzo, designed the medal which bears the likeness of the unfortunate Don Carlos, the son of Philip II. of Spain ; he is represented as a boy of twelve years of age. Another medal has the portrait of Camilla Peretti, the sister of Pope Sixtus V. (1590), and is by Domenico Poggi, called by Vasari, Poggino, and mentioned in his Life of Valerio Vicentino as being also a sculptor in marble. A glass medal has -upon it, in silver, the heads of the Grand Duke Francis I., and .of his first wife, Joanna of Austria.

A very interesting set of dies and punches, by Benvenuto Cellini and other celebrated artists, completes this collection.