- Renaissance Medals. Vol. 1, Italy, and: Renaissance Medals. Vol. 2, France, Germany, The Netherlands, and England
In 1931 Sir George Francis Hill published The Gustave Dreyfus Collection of Renaissance Medals for the Duveen Brothers, Inc., only one year after his masterly Corpus of Italian Medals of the Renaissance before Cellini. The objects amassed by Dreyfus, among the finest collections of Renaissance medals ever privately assembled, would be purchased by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation little more than a decade later in 1944. The Kress Foundation donated the entire collection to the National Gallery of Art in 1957. Perry Cott published a preliminary checklist of the future bequest in 1951 (Renaissance Bronzes: Statuettes, Reliefs and Plaquettes, Medals and Coins from the Kress Collection). In 1967 Graham Pollard, former Keeper of Coins and Medals at the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, essentially reiterated Hill's Dreyfus text with minor revisions when he compiled the comprehensive catalogue to the NGA's Kress Collection of medals (Hill and Pollard, Renaissance Medals from the Samuel H. Kress Collection at the National Gallery of Art).
With substantial additions from the Widener collection, the Baskin collection, and various other acquisitions, the National Gallery of Art's medals collection has grown both quantitatively and qualitatively since Hill and Pollard's publication: it is unquestionably the finest gathering of Renaissance medals in the United States and among the best worldwide. The National Gallery has published the expanded [End Page 978] collection as part of their ongoing Systematic Catalogue, and they returned to Graham Pollard to author it. Pollard's initial text for the present catalogue was extensively revised and updated by assistant curator Eleonora Luciano, and she probably should have been given equal billing as coauthor.
The result is a handsome two-volume set with excellent introductory essays examining medals production methods, fakes, connoisseurship, collectors, and patrons throughout Western Europe. Volume 1 focuses on Italy, volume 2 examines France, Germany, the Netherlands, and England. The first 814 entries contain concise summaries of the artists' careers, biographies of the sitters, discussions of the medal's iconography, and synopses of contemporary scholarship (the remaining 143 objects, collected in the appendix, include only basic information). Inscriptions and supplemental textual passages are translated into English, and appropriate scholarly apparatus —bibliography, mass, size, medium, orientation, and provenance —is included. The extensive technical notes, prepared by Don Meyers and Alisha Glinsman, are among the most complete of any medals catalogue to date and constitute valuable additions to the published information on those specimens. The duotone illustrations are sharp and clear, as are the colorplates at the beginning of each volume. Unlike traditional medals catalogues, the duotones are placed within the text proper, facilitating referral to the object while studying the text.
The authors adeptly review and synthesize recent scholarship, and reach sound conclusions: among other changes they judiciously corrected the attribution of Caradosso's brilliant medal of Bramante, which was promoted erroneously as a self-portrait in the mid-1990s. As we are told in the introduction, references were limited to those published before 2000, which is rather disappointing. In the years between that date and the publication of the present volumes in December 2007 substantial research has been published in the forms of books, articles, essays and catalogues, the most important of which is Philip Attwood's superb Italian Medals c. 1530–1600 in British Public Collections (2003). Attwood's catalogue will remain —not in scope, but in the thoroughness of the essays, biographies and catalogue entries —the standard text on sixteenth-century Italian medals for the foreseeable future, and it is unfortunate that this invaluable resource was not mined for the National Gallery catalogue.
The inclusion of Renaissance coins is...