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Labyrinth jeton, Spanish Netherlands 1591

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Saw this jeton on eBay and it piqued my curiosity:



Spanish Netherlands, bust of Phillip II. His motto DOMINUS MIHI ADIUTOR, "God my help." Verso: a labyrinth with the inscription: 1591 (hand --an engraver's mark?) FATA VIAM INVENIENT. Two small holes in center --perhaps used as a button. Copper, 30 mm.

The quote on the verso is from Book X of the Aeneid: Jupiter has listened to Venus and Juno, supporting opposing sides in the battle between Aeneas's Trojans and the Italians, or Rutulians ("red-haired," meaning blond --cf. Spanish rubio, "blond"). To put an end to it, Jupiter declares that from this point on the gods will not intervene; the human struggle will be determined by humans alone, with only the implacable Fates determining the outcome:


‘Take my words to heart and fix them there.

Since Italians and Trojans are not allowed to join

in alliance, and your disagreement has no end,

I will draw no distinction between them, Trojan or Rutulian,

whatever luck each has today, whatever hopes they pursue,

whether the camp’s under siege, because of Italy’s fortunes,

or Troy’s evil wanderings and unhappy prophecies.

Nor will I absolve the Rutulians. What each has instigated

shall bring its own suffering and success. Jupiter is king of all,

equally: the fates will determine the way.'


As I was poking about online for more information about this jeton, I came across an article (which unfortunately is no longer accessible online) pointing out that the labyrinth (except for a tree inscribed in its center) is exactly the same as that which appears in Claude Paradin's Devises heroïques (published in Latin in 1551 and in French and Latin in 1557):




Unlike previous works that offered a useful catalogue raisonné of noble badges or imprese (keeping track of nobles' coats of arms etc and offering some explanation of their origin), Paradin's collection of devices reflects a different approach, one more typical of the emblem-books which begin to appear in France around 1540. The woodcut images are presented to the reader more neutrally, their interpretation sometimes wandering away from previously determined meanings. The author's role is both presenter and observer; he offers himself less as an authority figure than as an informed spectator, and the overall style of the work seems to invite others to pick up these enigmatic devises and use them in new settings, with perhaps new meanings.


The gloss offered by Paradin shows this speculative approach:


As for the device of the Seigneur de Boisdauphin, present Archbishop of Ambrun, it could possibly be understood as meaning that to find our way to eternal life, the grace of God is given us, in the form of the thread of His holy commandments [ like the thread given to Theseus by Ariadne to defeat the Minotaur ]. Such that by holding to this thread and following it always we should succeed in bringing ourselves out of the dangerous detours of the world's terrible straits.


The engraver of this 1591 jeton reproduces Paradin's image exactly --perhaps transferring directly to the die an image copied from the book-- and yet offers no further guidance to its possible meaning(s) in its new context: the Eighty Years' War between the Spanish Hapsburgs and Dutch Protestants. The war must certainly have seemed labyrinthine to both sides at times.

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Very interesting piece and wonderful research. Thank you for sharing this with us. I really like this piece and the possible meaning of the labyrinth as following the path to "heaven" is quite interesting. Appears that jeton contains the "tree of life" in the center. Great item for anyone's collection.

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Thanks for the most interesting post Frank, here is a cached version of the missing article.


In a previous edition of Caerdroia (“The Labyrinth on Coins & Tokens” Caerdroia 36, pp.4-9) I described several coins and tokens decorated with labyrinths contained within the Labyrinthos Archive, including a jeton (a ‘coin’ created for political or promotional purposes) with a depiction of Theseus and the Labyrinth on its reverse, issued in Burgundy, France, in 1678. Recently added to the Labyrinthos collection is another similar jeton, minted in the Spanish Netherlands in the late 16th century.

29 mm in diameter, the jeton was minted on a thin, soft copper flan, and as a consequence has some damage and wear on the high points of the designs on either side. This is a common feature of jetons of this type, but the designs and inscriptions can be clearly determined. The obverse depicts the head of King Philip II of Spain, accompanied by the inscription DOMINUS.MIHI.ADIVTOR - The Lord is my helper - his personal motto.
The reverse bears the inscription FATA.VIAM.INVENIENT - fate will find a way - with the date 1591 and a small device in the shape of a hand, the mint mark of Antwerp. This surrounds a labyrinth of distinctive design, with a depiction of a small tree at its centre.
This jeton, issued in 1591, was surely an item of political propaganda, a symbol of support for Philip II’s campaign to retain ownership of the Spanish Netherlands, modern-day Belgium and the southern half of the Netherlands itself. Antwerp, now the capital of the Belgian province of Flanders, was at the time on the northern frontier of the Spanish Netherlands and an important port and centre of Spanish trade in spices, textiles and other commodities from the Far East and the Americas.
In 1579 the Union of Utrecht declared the provinces in the north of the Netherlands an independent Protestant state, free from the control of Philip’s Catholic regime. Antwerp, almost destroyed by the Spanish in 1576 in earlier hostilities, was on the front line, becoming the capital of the so-called Dutch Revolt. It fell into Philip’s hands again in 1585 following a long siege and over half of its population, the Protestants, fled to the north. It was not until 1609 that a truce was finally brokered between the Spanish and the United Provinces of the Netherlands, and hostilities did not cease entirely in the region until 1648.
As with the labyrinth-inscribed jeton issued in Burgundy nearly a century later, these items were also popular in the Netherlands in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and issued by supporters on both sides of the conflict. Their subjects ranged from patriotic depictions of their leaders and celebration of military victories to political commentary and satire. With the complex political circumstances in Antwerp at the time, it is surely no wonder that the labyrinth was employed as a statement upon the situation.
But the labyrinth on the reverse of this jeton is rather unusual. Although slightly worn, it is not difficult to determine the full design (depicted opposite). Superficially similar to a medieval design, albeit with only nine walls, eight circuits, it turns out to be a simple maze, of sorts, with several breaks in the walls and the outermost circuit in particular.
This design was clearly copied directly from Claude Paradin’s Devises Héroïques, a book of personal symbols, technically known as impresas (see Kern, 2000, pp.199-205 for full details), first published in Lyon, France, in 1551, subsequently expanded in 1557 and reprinted many times, including Paris in 1571 and London in 1591. Likewise accompanied by the inscription Fata viam inuenient (a quote from Virgil’s Aeneid), the impresa is presented as the emblem of Boisdauphin de Laval, who became the Archbishop of Embrun, France, in 1553 until his death the following year. The accompanying text alongside the device in the book explains that the labyrinth should be viewed as symbolic of finding the true path through worldly life, by the grace of God and through adherence to the Ten Commandments.
The only addition to the basic design in the book, seen on the jeton, is the inclusion of a small tree at the centre. Similar trees appear in the centre of labyrinths in other books of impresas from this time, but whether this addition has further symbolic meaning in this specific example, or is merely decorative embellishment is debatable. The tree, a symbol of eternal life or paradise, combined with the motto and the inherent symbolism of the labyrinth, could be seen as indicating that there is a way to be found, either to heaven or to hell, but God alone will help find the right path.
The use of the fata viam invenient motto in connection with a labyrinth can be found in several other instances from this same time period: as a relief moulding on the ceiling of the palace at Dampierre-sur-Boutonne in France (from c.1550) and beneath the small inset depiction of a man standing at the centre of a small turf labyrinth on the English painting of Lord Russell from 1573. It was also subsequently used on a series of labyrinth decorated medals, issued by Queen Kristina of Sweden, c.1650 (see Caerdroia 36, p.4).
Another connection, and possible source of inspiration for the use of the labyrinth on the 1591 jeton, can be found in another impresa, this time in Girolamo Ruscelli’s Le imprese illustri, published in Venice in 1566 and again in 1584. This depicts a simple labyrinth with the Minotaur (actually a Centaur) at the centre and is captioned In Silentio et Spe (in quietness and confidence) and was the emblem of Gonzalo Pérez, secretary and advisor to Philip II. Clearly these impresas featuring labyrinths and the connection between the symbol and the motto, were popular and well-known within the circles surrounding the Royal court of Spain (and elsewhere) during this period, so it should come as no surprise to find one appearing on a patriotic jeton issued by Philip’s supporters at this turbulent time, in a city at the epicentre of the conflict.
Jeff Saward; Thundersley, England, December 2009
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Excellent! Thanks Pat for adding the article, and thanks to Jeff Saward for his research.


Of course, at least one 12th/13th-century French cathedral (Chartres) has a very large labyrinth laid into the center of the stone floor. I don't think that the secular motto FATA VIAM INVENIENT was originally linked with that medieval tradition, though --but I'm happy to be proved wrong!

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Never realy paid too much attention to the subject of Labyrinths but I just learnt the difference between them and Mazes.


A labyrinth has but one entrance and its path leads one invariably to the center, whereas a maze can have more than one entrance and is a puzzle which has to be solved to reach the center and then sets the problem of extricating oneself.


So it is a maze depicted on the jeton and in the illustration.


Theseus would have had no need for thread to exit a Labyrinth, so was the Minotaur's lair in fact a maze? It would seem so!


Amazing :swoon:


Unless(all my own work)


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