World Coins

How European medals reveal history in sculptural form

An undated contemporary cast medal from the 16th century was commissioned by one of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s diplomats, Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle. It recalls the religious quarrels in Europe that made his travels perilous at the time of issue.

Medal images courtesy of Fritz Rudolph Künker.

In a manner far richer than coins, medals can provide an engaging and enlightening view of history, especially when a collection is pursued with the broader aim of providing context for a larger story.

In auction No. 282 on Sept. 28, German auction house Fritz Rudolph Künker offers The Luc Smolderen Collection, which is titled “Perception of European History Through Medals.”

According to Künker: “Medals represent a very special field of collecting. There are hardly any comprehensive catalogs and there is surely no help to find out their rarity. It is really only personal taste and knowledge which are the most important factors when creating such a collection. And Smolderen certainly possessed plenty of these abilities.”

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Smolderen often shared his knowledge with other collectors and through articles.

Geographically, the focus of his collection is the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as France, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, the Habsburg Empire, and Germany. 

A former president of the Académie Royale d’Archéologie de Belgique, Smolderen  built a collection that includes a range of pieces, affordable to astronomical.

Every example tells its own story. One piece in the sale provides a look at life in the 16th century Holy Roman Empire. 

The undated bronze medal was commissioned by Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, who lived from 1517 to 1586.

A statesman from Burgundy, Granvelle served Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who reigned from 1519 to 1556) as one of his most important diplomats. In a time when travels were cumbersome, Granvelle repeatedly passed through Europe by the order of the emperor. And, according to the auction house, being a representative of a rigid religious policy, as carried out by Charles V, he experienced the hate of the Protestants. 

There is no better source than his medals to learn how he perceived himself.

The reverse of this medal (and another in the sale) show the misfortunes of Ulysses accompanied by the motto DVRATE, which represents the beginning of a quote stemming from the Aeneid: “Endure and preserve yourselves for better times.”

The contemporary cast bronze medal is unsigned, but in the style of Jacques Jonghelinck, a Flemish sculptor and medalist working in Brussels.

The field of the medal is slightly smoothed, but the piece is otherwise Extremely Fine.

The medal has an estimate of €4,000 (about $4,454 U.S.). It is just one of approximately 5,350 lots with a cumulative estimate of €7.7 million ($8,571,658 U.S.) crossing the auction block in six Künker auctions from Sept. 26 to 30. 

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