Featured Bona di Savoia: the First Woman on an Italian Renaissance Coin

Discussion in 'World Coins' started by ycon, Jul 14, 2020.

  1. ycon

    ycon Renaissance Man

    I have just received in the mail one of the great rarities of Milanese coinage, the testone of Bona di Savoia:
    Duchy of Milan. Bona di Savoia regent with Gian Galeazzo Maria Sforza, 1476-1481 Testone, ND, AG 9.60 g. Ref : MIR 218/1 (R3), Cr. 2/A. Obv: (head of St. Ambrose) BONA·7·IO·GZ·M·DVCES·MELI·VI· Veiled bust of Bona to right. Rev: (head of St. Ambrose) SOLA·FACTA·SOLVM·DEVM·SEQVOR Phoenix, with spread wings, standing left amidst flames. From the collection of a "Gentleman of the Royal House [of Savoy]," ex. Gadoury November 2018

    Besides its great rarity this coin is fascinating for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that it has the first portrait of a woman on Italian coin since ancient Rome. According to some sources it is in fact the only portrait of a woman on an Italian Renaissance coin, although this is only possible with the discounting of the tallero of Margherita de Foix as a "non-circulating" coin, and the classification of several later 16th century coins as "Mannerist" instead of Renaissance. Like many (real) woman depicted on coins in the early modern period, Bona acted as regent for her son. She is shown veiled in an allusion to her widowhood. The obverse legend translates to: Bona and Gian Galeazzo Sixth Dukes of Milan.

    The reverse of the coin is also highly interesting. It depicts a phoenix over a pyre. The legend which surrounds it takes the form--uniquely among Milanese coins--of a motto: SOLA FACTA SOLVM DEVM SEQVOR, "Being alone, only God I follow." Meaning that Bona is the sole ruler of Milan, following only God and not under the influence of any advisors. The phoenix was at the time regarded as a metaphor for christ, because of parallel between its rebirth and his resurrection. Especially in light of the Motto it seems to also be a symbol for dynastic continuity-- the rebirth of the Sforza line after the murder of Galeazzo. The phoenix with an almost identical motto is also found in the bas-des-page of a leaf of the famous Sforza Hours (British Library MS 34294 f. 93r), which was commissioned by Bona around 1490 and illuminated by Giovan Pietro Birago. The presence of the phoenix and motto here seems to confirm it as a personal emblem of impresa of Bona's.

    download (6).png

    Bona was born to Louis I, Duke of Savoy and his wife Anne di Lusignan. She was one of nineteen children and her sister, Carlotta was the queen of France, married to Louis XI. Bona was nearly queen of England, having initially been engaged to Edward IV, until the scandal of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville became known. She was married instead to Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the future duke of Milan in a sort of proxy alliance between the Sforza and the King of France. She ruled as regent in Milan for her son Gian Galeazzo Maria Sforza, from 1476-81: after the murder of her husband and before the regency was forcibly commandeered by her brother-in-law Ludovico-- Ludovico took advantage of a rift power in Bona's court between her lover Antonio Tassini and her trusted advisor Cicco Simonetta. Simonetta is said to have presciently predicted "Your most illustrious excellence will cut my head and in the process of time you will lose the state" (Cicco Simonetta in C. Santoro, Gli Sforza: the noble house , cit., Pp. 213-214.)

    Duchy of Milan. Galeazzo Maria Sforza (1466-1476). Testone 1474-76. Right: armored duke's bust on the right. GALEAZ • M • SF • VICECOS • DVX • MLI • QIT Galeazzo Maria Sforza Vicecomitis Ducis Mediolani Quintus: "Galeazzo Maria Sforza Visconti, Fifth Duke of Milan" - Reverse: coat of arms surmounted by helmet with crest decorated with crested dragon; on the sides burning branches with buckets and initials. PP • ANGLE • Q3 • CO • AC • IANVE • D • Papie Angleriae Que Comes ac Ianuae Dominus: "Count of Pavia and Angera and Lord of Genoa" - gr. 9.56 - (CNI V / 171/76) (Crippa II / 197 / 6B) (Biaggi No. 1548)

    The denomination of the testone was introduced by her husband, and was one of the most important issues of the Renaissance. I have a Testone of his, which I have written about before. The dies for my new coin are also attributed to Caradosso in old sources, but this attribution has lost some favor due to lack of direct documentary evidence.

    One last feature worth highlighting is the provenance. When it was sold in 2018 it was part of a sale at Gadoury featuring the collection of an anonymous "gentleman" of the Savoy Royal house. I am very intrigued by this and if anyone has more information about this sale than what was published at the time, I would be very grateful.

    In putting together my research I also found that my coin has also been featured in articles on CoinsWeekly and Cronaca Numismatica and in an Italian book for children about the history of coinage.
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  3. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Wow, cool coin & history, congrats.
  4. Chris B

    Chris B Supporter! Supporter

    Great coin and write up. Thanks for sharing.
    ycon likes this.
  5. Iosephus

    Iosephus Well-Known Member

    Wonderful coin and history!
    ycon likes this.
  6. talerman

    talerman Supporter! Supporter

    This is a minor coin and not in nearly as good condition as @ycon's two beauties but it complements them

    MILAN Ludovoco Maria Sforza, il Moro, Regent for Giovanni Galeazzo Maria (1481-94) Grosso of 3 soldi n.d.(1481-94)

    Obv.: IOGZ'M'SF' VI_ CO' DVX' MI' SX (= 6th)' Shield with Milan curled snake (Biscione) with crest of Sforza winged monster with human face, breaking out of circle
    Rev.: head in circle rosette LVDOVICO* PATRVO* GVBNANTE* Horse's harness with ribbon with .VERGIES, .ICH. .NIT. (I forget nothing), breaking out of circle

    23 mm 2.42 g. MIR 225. CNI V,p.194,73. Crippa 7.

    Milan Lud Maria Reg for Gio Gal 3 soldi grosso nd obv 402.jpg Milan Lud Maria Reg for Gio Gal 3 soldi grosso nd rev 405.jpg

    The 7-year-old Gian Galeazzo Sforza inherited the duchy after his father, Galeazzo Maria, Ludovico's brother, was assassinated in 1476. As mentioned by @ycon, after a bitter struggle for the regency with the boy's mother, Bona of Savoy, Ludovico emerged as victor in 1481 and seized control of the government of Milan and ruled as Regent for 13 years. In 1494 Gian Galeazzo died under suspicious conditions and Ludovico became duke. However, in 1498 Louis XII of France, who had a hereditary claim to Milan through his Visconti grandmother, descended upon Milan. Ludovico was captured in April 1500 and spent the rest of his life in imprisonment in France. He died in 1508. In 1512 Swiss mercenaries under the Pope & Emperor would restore his son Massimiliano as Duke.
    Chris B and ycon like this.
  7. ycon

    ycon Renaissance Man

    Lovely coin. I still need a coin of Ludovico/Gian Galeazzo, but, naturally, I'm after the double portrait Testone.
  8. Iosephus

    Iosephus Well-Known Member

    Here's a medal of Ludovico commemorating the acquisition of Genoa:

    serafino, Chris B, ycon and 1 other person like this.
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