How does a story become legend? Gods, Glory, and Spirituality seeks to answer this question with a selection of Renaissance medals and plaquettes from the Museum’s Sigmund Morgenroth Collection. A collaboration with UC Santa Barbara’s History Department, the exhibition presents medals from Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, and France, accompanied by student writing of historical fictions. These modern narratives provide new facets for enjoying the Renaissance works of art through tales of adventure, intrigue, and tests of faith.
While religious plaquettes served spiritual needs, portrait and mythological medals celebrated and memorialized powerful rulers, ancient heroes, and learned individuals. The presentation of medals, spanning three hundred years, offers a sense of the variety of sizes, shapes, and materials—such as bronze, silver, lead, wood, and terracotta—as seen in the entirety of the collection. The oldest medal of the group, as well as the collection, is Pisanello’s 1438–1439 portrait of Emperor John VIII Palaeologus of Constantinople. In fact, it was Pisanello, with his goldsmith knowledge, who first developed techniques of casting from wax models for medal production. Master sculptors Pisanello, Donatello, Hans Schwarz, among others, poured their virtuosity into the precious object in the very act of casting or carving it.
We thank Professor William Thompson and his students of Historical Fiction: Power, Politics, and Gender in Tudor England (Spring 2020) for their contributions.
Image: Unknown Artist, Cosimo de' Medici, Pater Patriae, 1465–1469. Bronze. Sigmund Morgenroth Collection of Renaissance Medals and Plaquettes. Art, Design & Architecture Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara.