Baroque medal of Pope Alexander VIII (1690)

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Pellinore, Sep 21, 2019.

  1. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    Last week I became enamored of the beautiful Vatican medal in JZ’s auction, so much that I paid twice what I had planned. Yesterday it arrived and I was smitten!
    We have here a silvered medal from the year 1690 with the bust of Pope Alexander VIII on the obverse and a thurible billowing incense at the reverse. It was sculpted by Giovanni Martino Hamerani (c.1646-1705) of the two-century Hamerani dynasty that dominated Vatican coinage for a long time.
    I made a picture in this morning's early sunlight.

    7026 Alex viii ct sharp.jpg

    Alexander succeeded pope Innocent XI on 6 October, 1689. Innocent, from the Odescalchi banking family, had been a martial and active, frugal pope who had fought the corruption of the church: the desire for riches and squandering the Church's wealth to nephews (popes having no legitimate children to bequeathe to). That is called nepotism - Innocent had all but eradicated that evil. He had contributed greatly to the war against the Turks, a war that was won when he died.

    However, Alexander VIII, born Pietro Ottoboni, a son of an important Venetian civil servant, had a different character, as this very medal shows. He was almost an octogenarian when ascending the throne of St. Peter, a peace-loving man of a gentle disposition, a cardinal who had been a suave diplomat. Although he didn’t give Louis XIV (who had supported his election) what he had hoped for, the French king greatly profited from Alexander’s unwarlike predisposition.

    This medal has on its reverse the word ‘SVAVITATE’, to be pronounced as ‘suavitate’: the letter v in Latin can signify v as well as u. It means ‘with sweetness’ or gentleness, you know the word suave. It was Alexander’s motto; he was a charitable man, generous to the poor – but even more so to his family, for Alexander VIII was a great nepotist, who redistributed the wealth of the Vatican by putting it into the pockets of his relatives, while handing out high and profitable offices to many of his nephews and grandnephews. And the pope richly filled the coffers of his native Venice, depleted because of the Turkish war. Alexander was pope for only sixteen months, he died on the first of Februari, 1691, 81 years old.

    As for the picture of St. Bruno of Cologne on the pope’s vestment (not a chasuble, but a ‘pluviale’, derived from the Ancient Roman raincoat): St. Bruno’s feast day is October 6, coinciding with the enthronement of Alexander VIII.

    I was greatly taken with the depiction of the clouds of incense, a Baroque subject: exuberantly realistic rendering meant to amaze the viewer. Incense is a symbol of prayers reaching out to heaven. A thurible is a machine invented in antiquity that allowed controlling resin to smoulder and exude its sweet smells.

    On Google Books I found it in an old catalog of papal medals, Numismata romanorum pontificum praestantiora a Martino V ad Benedictum XIV. Here's the entry. It's nr. IV of Alexander VIII. In nr. III you find the reason for the presence of St. Bruno.


    Papal States. Pope Alexander VIII, 1689-1691. Silvered AE medal, 1690.

    Obv. Tiaraed bust with ornate pluviale to the right. On the collar a picture of Saint Bruno. HAMERAN in small letters below bust; dotted border. ALEXAN· - VIII·PONT:M:A:I·.
    Rev. Censer puffing out billows of smoke. SVAVITATE.
    Sculpted by Giovanni Martino Hamerani (1646-1705). 12h, 31 mm, 16.54 gr. Ex-Kerry Wetterstrom. See Ridolfo Venuti, Numismata romanorum pontificum praestantiora a Martino V ad Benedictum XIV (1744), p. 310 IV.
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  3. Archeocultura

    Archeocultura Well-Known Member

    Nice medal and fine research! Both make up for a lovely story!
    galba68 and Pellinore like this.
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