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Two Papal Medals - Construction of the New St. Peter's Basilica

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A couple of papal medals, created just over 100 years apart, which nicely bookend the beginning and near completion of the construction of the new St. Peter's basilica.

Julius II, 1506
by Cristoforo Foppa Caradosso


Gilt Bronze, 56.5 mm Ø, 52.3 g

Obverse: Bust of Julius II facing right, bareheaded and wearing a cope decorated with arabesques and icons. Around, IVLIVS · LIGVR · PAPA · SECVNDVS · MCCCCCVI (Julius II, Ligurian, Pope, 1506).

Reverse: A shepherd, seated on a stone under an oak tree, pointing his flock of sheep towards a path leading to a gateway to an enclosure on a mountain. Around, PEDO SERVATAS OVES AD REQVIEM AGO (The sheep that were preserved by the staff I lead to their repose).

Julius II (born Giuliano della Rovere) undertook to rebuild the original St. Peter's Basilica which had been erected by the emperor Constantine. Ideas had been considered during the pontificate of Nicholas V for renovating the original structure, which had fallen into ruinous shape, but Julius decided to entirely demolish it and construct a new basilica. The design and construction was entrusted to the architect Donato Bramante, who drew plans for a Greek style (square) church topped by a large dome. The first stone was laid by Julius during a ceremony on April 18, 1506. Construction on the basilica would proceed for over a century, passing through the hands and many architects and popes. In the end, the final basilica retains virtually nothing of Bramante's original design.

This is a sister medal to the more famous version showing Bramante's design for the new basilica. Modesti suggests that the version showing the building was created to serve as the foundation medal, while this version with an allegorical representation was intended to be distributed in commemoration of the laying of the first stone. The reverse illustration can be viewed as the Pope (represented by the shepherd) indicating to the faithful (the sheep) the new erection of the basilica on the Vatican Hill. The staff referred to in the reverse inscription takes on the dual meaning of a shepherd's staff and a pastoral staff. That the shepherd represents the Pope is further reinforced by the oak tree under which he sits, which is a symbol of the della Rovere family of which Julius was from. The Italian word "rovere" literally means "oak tree".

Provenance: From the collection of Michael Hall.

Paul V, 1608
by Paolo Sanquirico


Bronze, 56.8 mm Ø, 59.2 g

Obverse: Bust of Paul V facing right, bareheaded, wearing a decorative cope featuring a standing saint. Around, PAVLVS · V · BVRGHESIVS ROM · PONT · MAX · A · S · M · DC · VIII · PONT · III · (Paul V Borghese, Supreme Roman Pontiff, In the Year of Thanks 1608, the Third Year of His Pontificate). Beneath the bust, P · SANQVIRIC · .

Reverse: Frontal view of the façade of St. Peter's Basilica. Above, TEM · D · PETRI · - IN · VATICANO (The Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican). Below, in exergue, ET · PORTAE · INFERI · NON / PRAEVALEBVNT (And the gates of hell shall not prevail).

One of the first tasks Paul V (born Camillo Borghese) undertook was to complete the new Saint Peter's Basilica, which had been under construction for over 100 years, the first foundation stone being laid in 1506. Carlo Maderno was appointed as the architect charged with completing the structure. The two main tasks included designing an extension the nave of the church (forming a Latin cross instead of the Greek cross from Michelangelo's plans) and designing the façade for the grand structure. Unfortunately, the extension of the nave destroyed the view of the front of the church. On February 10, 1608, the first stone of the façade was blessed by the pope and ceremoniously laid into place.

This is the foundation medal for the façade of the new Saint Peter's Basilica. The reverse illustrates the planned design for the façade by the architect Carlo Maderno. Though the view on the medal might be correct from a purely orthographic projection, the actual view from in front of the basilica finds the two small side domes completely obscured and the large central dome nearly so. The exergual inscription on the reverse is taken from Matthew 16:18; Et ego dico tibi: Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam; et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversum eam (And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it).

Provenance: From the collection of Francesco Calveri.

Plate medal for Corpus Numismatum Omnium Romanorum Pontificum (C.N.O.R.P.), Volume IV: da Sisto V (1585-1590) a Paolo V (1605-1621) by Adolfo Modesti [n. 1047].


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