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The Beginnings of Medallic Art in Poland during the Times of Zygmunt I and Bona Sforza

Mieczysław Morka
Artibus et Historiae
Vol. 29, No. 58 (2008), pp. 65-87
Published by: IRSA s.c.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40343650
Page Count: 23
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The Beginnings of Medallic Art in Poland during the Times of Zygmunt I and Bona Sforza
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Abstract

The art of medal making was late in coming to Poland, only making an appearance in 1520. In that year a small medal was cast in silver to mark the birth of Zygmunt August, the first-born son of King Zygmunt I and his second wife, Bona Sforza of Aragon. The medal was an extraordinary piece of work also because of the fact that there was no artist in Cracow at that time who was able to make small moulds for cast medals. Therefore, in 1526 the chancellor, Krzysztof Szydtowiecki, invited Hans Schwarz, a German sculptor and medallist to come to Poland. He cast a one-sided medal of the chancellor in bronze. In the years 1526-1527 Schwarz also worked for King Zygmunt I, proof of which are the surviving five or six medals with a bust of the King. At least one of them was cast in gold, a copy of which Seweryn Boner, a banker and adviser to the monarch, sent as a gift to Erasmus of Rotterdam. Hans Schwarz left Poland after two years. However, the significance of medal engraving was appreciated at the Polish court, and this is proven by the attitude of Zygmunt I's wife towards the art. There is no doubt that Bona had a keen interest in medallic art and she may have been responsible for bringing the sculptor Giovanni Maria Mosca called Padovano from Venice to Cracow. Padovano executed a series of medals depicting members of the royal family: Zygmunt I, Bona, their daughter Izabela and their son Zygmunt August. The originals were sent, most probably by Bona, as gifts to Ippolito (II) d'Esté, the Archbishop of Milan. It is here for the first time that the message contained in those medals has been exhaustively analysed. Not long after Padovano had made the royal medals, Maciej Schilling, a minter and maker of coin presses, became interested in medallic art. In 1533 in the Toruń mint he struck a so-called thaler medal in gold and silver with portraits of Zygmunt I and Zygmunt II August on both sides. It was used by Melchior Baier, a goldsmith from Nuremberg, as a model for making the portrait plaques on the predella of the so-called Silver Altarpiece in the Sigismund Chapel at Cracow Cathedral. In the same year Schilling made a medal of Seweryn Boner in silver and gold. Among the medallists working in Poland mention should also be made of Giovanni Giacomo Caraglio from Verona – an engraver, goldsmith and maker of glyptics.It is worth noting that although some medals dating from the time of Zygmunt I and Bona have not been preserved, we do have some indirect information about them from written sources. The small number of medals made during the reign of Zygmunt I indicate that this craft was treated as rather marginal at the court. Schwarz was the one person to produce them systematically. This was nothing in comparison to the role the medals played at the courts of the House of d'Este in Ferrara and Mantua, the House of Aragon in Naples or the Emperors Maximilian I and Charles V. It was undoubtedly Bona who had a significant role in promulgating medallic art in Poland, and her understanding of the impact of such propaganda is clearly visible.

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