The Coins of Benvenuto Cellini (not ancient, but...)

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by ycon, Jan 22, 2018.

  1. ycon

    ycon Renaissance Man

    First of all, a disclaimer: the coins I'm going to be talking about aren't exactly ancient. Any earlier and they'd clearly belong on this board, and any later and I would have posted them on moderns. There's not much about renaissance coinage that I've found in the archives of cointalk, so because of their tremendous artistry and historical importance I decided to post them here. I hope the good people in the ancient coins forum will be able to indulge me (get it, that was a papal joke ;)).

    Benvenuto Cellini was one of the most talented and colorful figures of the renaissance. His sculpture of Perseus has been posted here before, but he only started working as a sculptor in middle age (practically reinventing the technique of large scale bronze sculpture which hadn't been practiced in over a generation), in fact he trained as a goldsmith.

    There is only one surviving piece of his goldsmith work: the Saliera, or Salt Cellar in Vienna. 5682942595_e767f207a1_b.jpg
    The Saliera, I like to say, is the greatest salt shaker ever made! It may, indeed, be the greatest objet d'art ever made. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Vienna, you have to seek it out. No photograph can capture the way it glows, and the truly mind blowing nature of its workmanship.

    This is all preamble to the main point, which is that after the sack of Rome, Clement VII hired Cellini as the master of the mint! When I first read this in his autobiography (years ago) I remember putting down the book and finding myself on for the first time, shocked to learn that some of Cellini's coins were still extant, and even available for purchase. I still didn't ever believe that I would be able to purchase one of his coins. I can only assume it was the dramatic toning and less-than-perfect condition that allowed me to get this at auction for ~half the price it usually sells for. This is the first "holy grail" coin I've purchased, and I'm completely thrilled.

    Rome. Clement VII (Giuliano de’Medici), 1523-1534. Doppio Carlino, AR 5.01 g. CLEMENS·VII PONT· MAX Bearded bust left with ornate cope with figures of saints and medallion. Rv. Mintmark of Giacomo Balducci. QVARE – DVBITASTI (Matthew 14:31) Christ lifting St. Peter from the Sea. Muntoni 43. Berman 841. Rare. VF, profile of Clement slightly doubled.

    Ex. CNG-NAC 40, 1996, 218.

    Dies Engraved by Benvenuto Cellini.

    Perhaps the most exciting part is that Cellini actually describes this coin in his famous autobiography (Chapter XLVI):

    Meanwhile, I laboured assiduously at the work I was doing for the Pope, and also in the service of the Mint; for his Holiness had ordered another coin, of the value of two carlins, on which his own portrait was stamped, while the reverse bore a figure of Christ upon the waters, holding out his hand to S. Peter, with this inscription 'Quare dubitasti?' My design won such applause that a certain secretary of the Pope, a man of the greatest talent, called Il Sanga, was moved to this remark: Your Holiness can boast of having a currency superior to any of the ancients in all their glory. The Pope replied: Benvenuto, for his part, can boast of serving an emperor like me, who is able to discern his merit.

    (It should be added that Clement VII is quite the character himself.)

    He describes it again in The Treatise on Goldsmithing, Chapter XIV: How to Make Steel Dies for Stamping Coins:

    “A third coin of my making was in silver, of the value of two carlins, on the one side of which was the head of the Pope, and on the other side St. Peter, just the moment after he has plunged into the sea at the call of Christ, and Christ stretches out his hand to him in most pleasing wise, and the legend to this was ‘Quare dubitasti?’”

    As I began to research this coin more in depth, it became apparent that there were no exact die matches I could find. What was more perplexing was that there seemed to be places where the dies would match completely, and other places where they would vary. Have a look for yourself. I wondered how this was possible--the answer is given by Cellini himself further on this same chapter:

    “…And the tools with which you work have to be made specifically for the purpose. Thus for a head I should make the tool in two pieces, and for the the various figures on the reverse of a coin I should use a number of different pieces according to my discretion… The men who did the best work in coining always did the whole of the work upon either the punches or the matrices, and never once touched up the dies with either gravers or chisels, for that would be a great blunder, as all the various dies necessary for making many impressions of the same coins, would be a bit different…I must not forget to tell you, as I promised, how it was the ancients never turned out coins as well as we; & the reason of it was because they cut their dies out direct with goldsmith’s tools, gravers, chisels, punches, & that was very difficult for them to do, especially as the mints needed a large number of these dies…On one occasion when I was making the dies for Pope Clement in Rome, I had to turn out thirty of these [dies] in one day; had I gone to work in the manner of the ancients, I could not have produced two, nor would they have been as good.”

    This explains how, for instance, one may find partial die-matches for these coins, where say, the figure of Christ and Peter will be identical, but the lettering may be in a relatively different position, or the face of Peter may be the same while his robes are entirely different, or the cope of Clement may be the same, but there are differences in his portrait. In this way it is also possible to reconstruct some of the individual punches that Cellini must have created and used in the making of his dies.

    It is exciting that so many original sources pertaining to this coin survive. For instance, the documents of the mint show that on April 16, 1529, Cellini had been nominated by the Pope as its sole engraver:

    Dilecto filio Benvenuto Cellini Aurifici fiorentino: De acuitate ingenii virtute probitate et solerti scientia tua confidentes ac cupientes te favore prosegui grazioso officium conficendarum stamparum cudendi monetam pro tempore Zeccha alme urbis nostre cum honoribus oneribusque et emolumentis consuetis…… indignationis nostre pena aliquas stampas in Zeccha nostra nisi per manus dicti Benvenuti recipiant et admictant aut desuper monetam cudere audeant vel presumant

    Additionally, a payment order from 12 June 1529, survives in the State Archives of Florence, for twenty ducats to Cellini in his capacity as "new master of engraving."

    Besides this coin, Cellini designed two coins in gold for Clement VII that he describes in his writings (there are also another several attributed to him). These two are, I believe, unique-- I haven't been able to find what museum they're in, best guess would be the British museum or the Bargello. One depicts Clement on the obverse with Ecce Homo on the reverse, while the other has the novel and ingenious scene of Clement and the the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V bearing the weight of the cross, together, with Sts Peter and Paul on the reverse. Cellini tells us that this coin was struck with more gold in it than it was valued, so it was largely melted down and was very rare even by the time of his writing. These two coins are 4 and 7, respectively, in this plate from CNI. tavole-CNI15.jpg
    Finally, Cellini also minted coins for Alessandro de'Medici. He say of these "and because the duke was curly headed the people called these coins e ricci del Duca Alexandro (the duke's curls). [​IMG]
    This wonderful coin is my next holy grail!

    I hope you enjoyed this write up! Post your own renaissance or papal coins, or any you have with artist's designs-- I love signed ancient coins!

    (I did not take any of the photos used, but they are all copyright free, because the art works in question are all out of copyright.)
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  3. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    It's ancient enough just scrapes in, serious though that is a wonderful coin and a great write up, congrats most would be happy to have it in their collection.
    chrsmat71 and ycon like this.
  4. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Tremendous!! I had no idea that Cellini had designed and struck coins, thanks so much for the wonderful post!

    Here's my favourite renaissance coin in my collection, a grosso of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, first Duke of Milan (1395-1402):
    Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 11.11.54 PM.jpg
  5. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Congrats on scoring a grail coin. That really is a wonderful bit of numismatic history.
  6. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Wow! That's a great "story coin"!
    ycon likes this.
  7. TheRed

    TheRed Supporter! Supporter

    Congratulations @ycon on getting such an amazing coin. Your write-up up made for a great read too.
  8. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    I also had no idea that Cellini engraved a coin! Fantastic find.

    I have a small collection of 20th century artistic medals. Is there anywhere like CoinTalk for medal collectors? One of my medals depicts Cellini and two of his famous artworks.

    France, circa 1965. 79mm, 230g. Artist Daniel Flourat
    Obv: Bust of 3/4 right of Cellini, inscription Benvenuto Cellini; signature D. Flourat.
    Rev: Cellini's 1554 bronze of Perseus holding the severed head of Medusa, medallion of King Francis I of France by the artist at his feet on the left, dates 1500-1571 (life of Cellini); D.F. signature.

    Flourat lived 1928-1968 and studied at the l'École des beaux-arts de Paris with Dropsy. He was an engraver at the Paris Mint from 1951 to his death.

    I wonder where Flourat got his portrait of Cellini. Are there contemporary paintings or medals of him?
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2018
  9. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Could one of our legal professionals comment on this statement? Last I heard, the photograph of an object is considered a separate artistic property and has nothing to do with the age of the subject. Certainly there are many coin photos in the public domain but they got there through actions of their owners (the photographer, his employer or the person to whom he transferred rights) not by the age of the subject. It is very unlikely that anyone is going to come after you for stealing a coin photo but that does not mean you should not seek permission for use of such photos that have not been set free by their owners.

    When I saw this thread I thought it was going to cover Cavino's work in copying (improving as he saw it) ancient coins. These are now known as the Paduans. I do find it interesting that he viewed mechanically reproduced dies done by 'staff' superior to original artwork of a master. This attitude continues today with many artists' works being a product of a workshop system in which the 'name' artist rarely touches the final product. This was well pointed out out by a travelling exhibit of the sculptor Rodin who is most well known for his 'Thinker' which exists in 'originals' of several media and sizes produced, in some cases, by his shop before and after Rodin died. Certainly machine hubbed dies will enable an entire issue to be of consistently superior quality but they require a modern view of what is art and what is a production line craft. Applied across the board, we would have to accept a million prints and painting mill knock offs as superior to the originals that are now faded and restored to a level we who collect would never tolerate in our coins. The bottom line today is that an 'original' is whatever the artist declares it to be.
    Trebellianus likes this.
  10. Volodya

    Volodya Junior Member

    Let me be the 3rd or 4th or 5th to say I also had no idea Cellini engraved dies. Great coin, great post. Thanks.
    RAGNAROK likes this.
  11. IdesOfMarch01

    IdesOfMarch01 Well-Known Member

    While I'm not a legal expert, I can verify that this statement is absolutely NOT TRUE. The copyright applies to the photographs, which are particular expressions of the object, regardless of whether or not the object itself is in the public domain.
    Andres2 likes this.
  12. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    There is an important precedent, Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., that suggests that photographs of paintings, other photographs, and perhaps of coins cannot acquire a new copyright. At least half of what @ycon posted seem to fall under that ruling.
  13. ycon

    ycon Renaissance Man

    Thank you for all the kind words everyone!

    @Ed Snible love that funny medal have you seen this one?

    @dougsmit I don't want to turn this thread into an argument about copyright, but here are a couple articles on the topic

    In general, old artworks are out of copyright. A new creative act has to be done, modifying the original, in order for that to generate a new copyright. The question, then, is whether or not taking a photograph of an artwork counts as a new creative act. Many museums--in a large part so that they can generate reproduction fees-- have argued that it does, however most courts in the US and England have not agreed.

    As for what you say about originals, I think your points are slightly muddled (I come to numismatics, by the way, from my love of art history).

    In terms of originality I think you're going after several separate issues.

    First of all, I love Cavino's and will probably do a post on them soon. To me comparing them to Roman originals doesn't make a ton of sense, let alone comparing Cavino's to painting mills. Paduans are interesting as historical artifacts that tells us a lot about the relationship between renaissance art and its classical precedence. It is possible that in five hundred years the work of painting mills will be similarly regarded, though I doubt it because they don't have much to do with current artistic thinking. Secondly, Cavino's original medals were made with great technical care, and though you assert otherwise, the difference in quality between an old master and a painted reproduction from a painting mill is huge and obvious (maybe a better comparison would be to a very late cast paduan that, where its status as a reproduction is the first thing you notice about it)!

    I'd also like to address your points on the question of reproducibility, like the example of the posthumous Rodin sculptures. Artists have for centuries made mechanically reproducible artworks, most notably bronze sculptures that can be re-cast, and prints that can be re-printed. Generally artists did not execute every part of the reproduction process themselves. However they would make the original matrix that was to be reproduced (eg rembrandt and goya etched their own plates but didn't print all the editions of their works.) Since these media inherently revolve around reproducibility, I think it is hard to claim that the products aren't original. A Rembrandt or a Dürer print is BOTH a reproduction and an original--and this is reflected in value. A print by either of those artists would sell for many thousands of dollars (assuming it's not a unique impression, in which case it would probably command more) but a painting would be worth many millions. Similarly, many editions of Goya's prints were published after his death. Coming from his original plates, they are still regarded as originals, but their value goes down as the plates get more and more degraded. As you say there is a level of quality that most of us would not tolerate in our coins--this is very true--however, as with the Goya prints, the quality may effect value but it won't have any impact on originality.

    I think this is also separate from the controversy of artists such as Jeff Koons who don't make any of their artwork--as you alluded to. I, as an artist, share some of your disdain for this practice. You say "The bottom line today is that an 'original' is whatever the artist declares it to be." I think this is true, but I don't think it has to do with questions of originality that arise from prints, medals, casts, coins etc. Instead this is true because of the trajectory of 20th century art, particularly as set by Marcel Duchamp. For me the question of whether or not something is "art" isn't very useful, because the idea that anything can be art has been a tenet for the past century. Rather the question ought to be "is this interesting." (and in the case of Koons, for instance, the answer would be "no.")

    This does also pertain to my original post, because it's exactly this idea that I get to hold and own an original, tiny, sculpture by Cellini that gets me so excited!
    Pellinore, Trebellianus and Volodya like this.
  14. IdesOfMarch01

    IdesOfMarch01 Well-Known Member

    I'm pretty sure you're fundamentally misunderstanding the law surrounding copyrights. In my last business, I spent a lot of time dealing with IP and copyright issues, which can be subtle but aren't in this case.

    The issue is NOT whether the work of art is subject to copyright; that is irrelevant. Rather, the individual who took the photograph owns the copyright to the photograph which is independent of whether or not the original work of art is copyrighted.

    For example, Mozart died in 1791 so none of his compositions is subject to copyright. BUT, if the New York Philharmonic Orchestra performs a version of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, they own the right to reproduce and sell that performance and no one else can sell their performance of that Mozart piece without their explicit permission.

    Photographs work the same way. I own the copyright to every photograph I take, regardless of the subject matter. No one can legally reproduce that photograph (subject to "fair use" copyright provisions) without my permission. You are reproducing someone else's photograph without their permission. Now, maybe the photograph is so old that the copyright has expired, or maybe fair use provisions apply, but you don't know if that's the case.

    That's the best I can explain this issue. Maybe a copyright/IP lawyer can provide a more detailed and articulate explanation.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2018
  15. ycon

    ycon Renaissance Man

    @IdesOfMarch01 Respectfully, I think it is you who is misunderstanding the issues at hand. As you would have seen had to followed the links provided "“exact reproductions of public domain artworks are not protected by copyright.” This certainly covers both photographs of the coins I used in my post. (It is not at all parallel to your example of a Mozart recording, which constitutes a new artistic act.)

    This would not cover the page from the CNI, however that is a moot point as that is an out of copyright work (it would be like claiming who ever photocopied the book now has copyright over it).

    One could argue that the photograph of Perseus is not a "slavish copy" but that is also a moot point since it is an out of copyright photograph from wikipedia where it is posted by its original author under a creative commons copyright free notice.

    That leaves only the picture of the Saliera, which is from the Kunsthistoriches museum website, and which does not, I believe, satisfy the need from Bridgeman v. Corel to be original. The Kunsthistoriches museum, additionally, allows the use of its images for non-commercial purposes.

    I advice you to research more about Bridgeman, rather than cite your previous job experience.

    Wikipedia is a good place to start:

    "Even though accurate reproductions might require a great deal of skill, experience and effort, the key element to determine whether a work is copyrightable under US law is originality."

    I'm sorry that this thread has become about copyright issues, rather than the coins and history I posted.
    Pellinore likes this.
  16. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    I saw and held that medal in person, about ten years ago, at the New York International coin show. It's nice! It is as big as your hand. It is very impressive. I hope a serious medal collector bought it.
    Alegandron and ycon like this.
  17. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    I'm not sorry. Both can exist in the same thread and both can be informative. I've enjoyed the coins and the copyright discussion in this one thread.

    Some other forums tend to stifle the natural flow of threads, insisting on staying "on topic", but I like the more relaxed atmosphere of CoinTalk. Based on the number of responses to any given thread compared to other forums and other boards, it seems to be a good policy.
  18. IdesOfMarch01

    IdesOfMarch01 Well-Known Member

    Consult an attorney, please.

    I'm NOT talking about "an exact reproduction of a work of art." I'm talking about a PHOTOGRAPH of that work of art. The PHOTOGRAPH is NOT the reproduction. It's a photograph. It's owned by the photographer.

    My own photograph of the Cellini sculpture, which I've posted here, is owned by me. It cannot be used commercially without my explicit permission. Period.

    You might want to reference my posts in the thread:—misconception.309443/
  19. ycon

    ycon Renaissance Man

    @IdesOfMarch01 Bridgeman art library was in the business of claiming it had copyrights to photographs of works of art, preciscely what we are discussing here. It was deemed that those photographs were made to be as objective as possible, so were therefore not original and since the work they were reproducing was out of question, so too were the photographs.

    As I already stated, I think my claim to the photograph of Perseus is weakest. There is certainly an argument to be made that is an original work and not simply a reproduction (though not necessarily a winning argument). However, as I also stated, that photograph is copyright free. Here is the original image, along with its creative commons license.

    Photographs of 2-dimensional artworks, such as coins, paintings, drawings, and prints, rarely if ever constitute new copyrights because their purpose is just to reproduce.

    Perhaps this would make more sense if I showed you some works that DO constitute (at least arguably would constitute) new copyright claims. tumblr_n4yqf335mr1to7hjco5_500.jpg

    This is an image, taken by me, of a 15th century sculpture by Claus de Werve. I took the image on black and white film, and composed it dramatically and with chiaroscuro lighting. As such, it is not a straightforward reproduction of the sculpture in question (as it would be if I had shot in in neutral lighting, with color film, on a gray background, for instance). The artistic choices I made are enough, in my opinion, to constitute a new work of art. Of course, this is subjective and someone could argue that my changes were insufficient and so I don't have copyright to this photograph. In the end only a judge could decide that.

    Similarly, here are famous images taken in museums by the photographer Thomas Struth.

    The images reproduce art works, but they also show the experience of the museum, of looking at the artwork, rather than just of the artwork itself. That is enough to make them works of art in and of themselves, and therefore subject to copyright.

    I have seen some of the images that you took of the Cellini sculpture. I think it is debatable whether or not you have copyright to it. On the one hand, you surely made many decisions about how and when to compose your picture. On the other it is a fairly faithful reproduction. I'm not going to say that you don't have the copyright to it, but as I have demonstrated (in this specific are of copyright) merely taking the photo does not guarantee your rights.

    I think images of coins are much more straightforward. Frankly I think almost none of the pictures here are copyright-able, because they are very direct reproductions of works that are themselves out of copyright. This is not in any way to belittle the tremendous skill and effort people put here into photographing their coins, or to say they don't deserve credit for their work.

    Another example could be @Deacon Ray (you'll excuse me for dragging you into this) who makes careful presentations of each of his coins. The presentations themselves are undoubtedly copyrighted because they constitute original content, but the photographs that he uses as part of the presentations wouldn't have copyrights in-and-of-themselves.

    Finally this is an actively developing are of the law. In England, right now, there is currently a major controversy over the fact that many museums charge licensing fees for photographs of their artworks, when it is likely illegal for them to do so.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2018
    Deacon Ray likes this.
  20. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    Copyright law is tricky. @IdesOfMarch01 is correct that his photograph is owned by him. The Bridgeman case cited by @ycon doesn't apply to photos of sculptures. (It might apply to casts of sculptures).

    ycon used an image of Cellini's sculpture from which is freely reproducible -- but only if attributed the photographer "Jastrow" (Marie-Lan Nguyen). ycon didn't do this.

    IdesOfMarch01 did not mention the copyright no-no with my image. I scanned a 1965 medal by Flourat. My scan is a derivative work of a medal that will be under copyright for 20 more years. I am not using it for criticism or other fair-use reasons. (I just wanted to show it off to people here.) The heirs of D. Flourat have every right to sue me and sue CoinTalk for that image.

    D. Flourat is dead and can't use my money or the fame he gets when I mention his name. I feel that showing his art and saying his name is the right thing to do even though copyright caution suggests I should track down an heir and get permission.
    ycon likes this.
  21. ycon

    ycon Renaissance Man

    @Ed Snible you are right, I should have credited Marie-Lan Nguyen!
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