American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society

Drachmas Doubloons and Dollars: The History of Money

The Art of the Medal

Renaissance Medals

In 15th century Italy, the medal emerged as a new art form. Its origins are much debated. It is certain that ancient coins and their portraits of Roman emperors inspired Renaissance artists to produce the first medals. The development of the portrait as an art form is closely interlinked with early history of medals.

Pisanello (c.1395-1455) was the first artist to produce medals. Working in northern Italy as painter and sculptor, he created true portrait medals of many Renaissance rulers. This piece commemorates the marriage of Lionello d'Este to Maria of Aragon in April 1444.


This gold medal, attributed to Candida, celebrates the marriage of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. By marrying the exceedingly wealthy daughter of Charles the bold, Duke of Burgundy, Maximilian greatly increased his influence in the Holy Roman Empire.


This fine example of German Renaissance art shows a portrait of the German reformist Martin Luther. The portrait bears a striking resemblance to a famous engraving by Lucas Cranach (1521), which also shows Luther in his doctoral hat.


Both sides of this medal from late 16th century England depict the route of Sir Francis Drake's circumnavigation of the globe in 1577. Drake was a privateer hired to plunder Spanish ships and territories, and the first Englishman to sail around the world.


The Dutch medalist Nicholas-Gabriel Jacquet created this medal celebrating the victory of the Protestant forces over the Catholic Spanish Armada in 1588. The legend "veni-vide-vive" ("come-see-live") is a pun on the famous saying attributed to Julius Caesar, "veni,vidi,vici" (I came, I saw, I conquered").