Medieval - The Mezzanino Nuovo Depicting Christ’s Resurrection

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by FitzNigel, Jul 20, 2020.

  1. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    A few years ago, a dealer at a coin show showed me an absolutely gorgeous Mezzanino Nuovo minted during the years of Doge Andrea Dandolo (r. 1343-54) of Venice. While the obverse is fairly typical of Venetian issues (at first glance), the reverse contains an imagery not found on any other Coins: Christ, rising from his sepulcher, at the moment of his resurrection. This was the first time I had seen one of these coins, and was thus very tempted to purchase the coin from the dealer. Unfortunately, he was asking more than I wanted to pay that day (certainly not more than the coin was worth), and my wife was with me, so I had to behave myself (Lesson learned - don’t take the wife to a coin show!). I kept an eye on the seller’s VCoins store, but it sold fairly soon after the show. I have since kept my eyes open for an appealing example at a reasonable price, and am happy to say I finally added one to my collection:

    Med-12-IVen-1346-Andrea Dandolo-MezN-M-12-1131.jpg
    Italy - Venice
    Andrea Dandolo, r. 1343-1354 (1346-1353)
    AR Mezzanino Nuovo, 15.52 mm x 0.9 grams
    ANDADVL ·SMVENE DVX. Saint Mark left receiving candle from Doge right. ‘Or’ in field (unknown mintmaster)
    Rev.: ·XPS·RES VRESIT·. Christ emerging from sepulchre
    Ref.: MEC 12-1131; CNI VII, 30-3 (pg. 73); cf. De Wit 3640

    The Mezzanino (or half- Grosso) was first issued in Venice during the leadership of Doge Francesco Dandolo (r. 1329-39). It seems the Doge was attempting a currency reform of debasing Venice’s silver issues in an effort to keep pace with other powers surrounding Venice who likewise debased their currency. [1] while the equally new Soldino would survive as a coin in use, the Mezzanino went out of use.

    Its resurrection occurred for a short period during the leadership of Andrea Dandolo. At the time, Venice’s gold coin was lowering in value compared to its silver, and there came to be a need to reintroduce the silver issue as demand for silver rose. [2] The coin was meant to be a return to a pure silver basis for Venice’s coinage (unlike the previous Mezzanino), but even then it was at a lower value. While it seems to have been a somewhat successful issue, it was not continued past Andrea Dandolo’s rule, nor did it circulate widely outside of Venice. [3]

    The coin is innovative in several ways. On the obverse, rather than the typical standard between the Doge and Saint Mark, there is a candle which the Doge is giving to the saint. [4] De Wit confusingly spends time trying to explain this away as a sword, which is reasonable at first glance visually, but makes no real sense symbolically. [5] It is described as a candle by Stahl as a candle, and the reason for its replacement of the standard was to denote piety. [6] The MEC volume confusingly lists it as a banner in the explanatory text, but says it is a candle in the catalogue. [7] I think the candle is a reasonable interpretation, as the large circle just above the hands of the figures is similar to medieval depictions of a candle holder (such as the one shown below).

    Liturgical Candles can be seen surrounding the priest. Book of Hours, France, ca. 1440. MS M.157 fol. 129v. The Met. Image taken from here.

    Perhaps a more interesting innovation on the obverse is that the mint began putting a mark which denotes the mintmaster under whom the coin was produced. The mark is found at the feet between the doge and saint. Stahl notes there are eight mintmasters for silver during the time of the Mezzanino Nuovo with known marks; their names and corresponding marks are given below: [8]

    (A) Angelo de Priuli (c. 1326-c. 1344)
    (M) Marco Navager (19 Nov. 1333-14 Jul. 1348)
    (Z) Giovanni Navager (14 Jul. 1348- ?)
    (F) Filippo Venier (1 Aug. 1348- c. 1349)
    (B) Benedetto Mazzaman (3 Jun. 1349-16 Jun. 1350)
    (Ç) Giovanni Papaziza (16 Jun. 1349-25 Jul. 1350)
    (S) Secondo Aventurado (16 Jun. 1350-c. 1368
    (N) Nicolò Albizo (2 Sept. 1349-7 Sept. 1350)

    He also notes that there are two additional marks with unknown mintmasters, but fails to describe them. However, the marks are found in the Corpus Nummorum Italicorum, vol. VII. The two additional marks are an ‘AR’ ligature, and an ‘or’ ligature. [9] Mine is clearly the ‘or’ ligature. Who this mintmaster was is now a mystery. Stahl records a mintmaster named Pietro Orio who was mentioned in documentation in 1358 (and nowhere else according to Stahl, so he may have been active during the Mezzanino years) which is a tempting pair, but all the other marks are based off the first name of the mintmaster and not the last. [10] Considering the minting of this denomination came during the plague years, and the council of Venice was desperate to find qualified men to fill the roles of mintmaster (since the two senior masters were both replaced in or by 1348), the mintmaster of my coin may have only temporarily held the post with no other record of his position but this mark.

    Late 13th c. Illuminated ‘R’ depicting Christ’s Resurection. From the Met Museum, image taken from Wikimedia commons here.

    Of course the most striking aspect of the Mezzanino Nuovo is the image on the reverse. Christ, resurrected from his tomb, is only to be found on this denomination, minted for this short period of time, and only once more during the rule of Doge Michele Steno (r. 1400-13). [11] The imagery of Christ rising from a tomb carrying a banner is not unusual itself, as it can be found in many manuscript images. But there would be no way for me to tell if there were any depiction in Venice which was the inspiration for this imagery. The obvious place to look would be the Basilica di San Marco, which does have an image of Christ’s resurrection on the west Façade, but this is clearly a Renaissance mosaic and one which would have been created after this coin was issued. Unfortunately with the lockdowns, I have been unable to access some of my books on the Basilica which I keep in my classrooms (okay, I could access them, but it would be such a pain to do so that it is not worth it), so I haven’t followed up on this idea.

    Christ’s Resurrection on the West façade of the Basilica di San Marco. Forgive the poor angle - I could not find a decent photo online without a watermark, so this is an image I took on my trip to Venice in 2009. I seem to recall I couldn’t maneuver to a better spot due to crowds.

    1 - Medieval European Coinage, vol. 12 Italy (I) (Northern Italy), ed. William R. Day, Jr., Michael Matzke, and Andrea Saccocci (Cambridge: University Press, 2016), 644. (Hereafter MEC)
    2 - Alan M. Stahl, Zecca: The Mint of Venice in the Middle Ages (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2000), 51-2.
    3 - Stahl, Zecca, 54-5; MEC 12, 644-5.
    4 - MEC 12, 645.
    5 - Künker, The de Wit Collection of Medieval Coins, Part III, Auktion 137 (Osnabrück: Fritz Rudolf Künker GmbH & Co. KG, 2008), no. 3640. (Hereafter De Wit)
    6 - Stahl, Zecca, 54.
    7 - MEC 12, 643, 1018.
    8 - Stahl, Zecca, 415-16.
    9 - Corpus Nummorum Italicorum, vol. VII (Rome, 1915), 73 nos. 30-2.
    10 - Stahl, Zecca, 416.
    11 - De Wit, pg. 192; MEC 12, nos. 1280-1.

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  3. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Andrea Dandolo (1342-1354 A.D.)
    AR Mezzanino Nuovo
    O: AN DADVL SM VENE DVX, Doge and St. Mark holding banner, P in ex.
    R: •XPS•RE[ S ]-VRESIT•, Christ emerging from tomb, holding banner and cross.
    Biaggi 2822
  4. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    Was hoping you would post yours @Mat! I was curious about your mintmaster. Is that a P or an A?
  5. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

  6. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    Yea, mine confused the heck out of me at first, because it looked like the ligature ‘or,’ but Stahl didn’t list this Mark. I was settling on it being a strange ‘M’ when I noticed his footnote to CNI saying it listed additional marks.
  7. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    Lovely coin. I think that Venetian mosaic might be one of the 19th-century works on the basilica.

    The coin reverse reminds me of Piero della Francesca’s RESURRECTION.

    TheRed and FitzNigel like this.
  8. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    Yea, I’m certain it is later, I just didn’t know when. I’m curious if it replaced a similar scene though. Any ideas?
  9. TheRed

    TheRed Well-Known Member

    Once again @FitzNigel you have written a really enjoyable and informative post for a great coin. I really like the strong image of Christ on the reverse of your coin, it is really well struck. A mezzanino nuovo has been in my want list for a while so I was quite pleased to pick one up earlier in 2020.
    My coin has the magistrate initial A for Angelo de Priuli. This is my first medieval chin from Venice, though hopefully it won't be my last.
    FitzNigel likes this.
  10. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    Venice has a nice variety of coins, but I think this one is certainly the most unique! Lovely Mezzanino @TheRed!
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