The Guido Kisch Collection in the American Numismatic Society

The Guido Kisch Collection in the American Numismatic Society

by Elena Stolyarik

In October 2007, the ANS Collections Committee received a letter from Dr. Alexander Kisch, proposing to sell to the Society on favorable terms the medallic collection of his late father, Holocaust survivor Dr. Guido Kisch (1889–1985). The senior Kisch had been a prominent professor of jurisprudence and the history of law at the universities of Königsberg, Prague, and Halle. He continued his academic career in New York during and after World War II before returning to Basel, where he held an honorary professorship and published extensively in the fields of humanism and jurisprudence. Due to a longstanding interest in numismatics, over a period of more than half a century he formed a unique personal collection of medals, plaquettes, and tokens focusing on law and the legal professions. Many aspects of his collection were discussed and illustrated in his monograph Recht und Gerechtigkeit in der Medallienkunst (Heidelberg, 1955).

Through the fortuitous acquisition of this splendid European collection, the ANS has been able to add many prized new specimens to its cabinet. Altogether, including duplicate items, there were well over one thousand objects in the Kisch acquisition. As we begin to catalog these holdings, some worthy examples deserve immediate mention.

One of the most important new additions enters our collection of Renaissance medals: a cast bronze commemorating the Roman emperor Constantine I “The Great” (AD 307–337) (Fig. 1). This rare and relatively famous issue portrays an image of the emperor on horseback, surrounded by the Latin inscription “Constantine, faithful in Christ our God, emperor and ruler of the Romans and forever exalted.” On the reverse are the images of two female figures (probably Virtue and Vice), with the true cross between them, with the “Tree of Life” (Lignum Vitae) and the “Fountain of Life” (Fons Vitae), surrounded by the inscription “God forbid that I should glory in anything save the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). The original example of the “Constantine” medallion—as well as its famous companion commemorating the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (AD 610–641)—was purchased in November 1402 from Antonio Mancini, a Florentine merchant in Paris, for the collection of the Duc de Berry. One of the first genuine medallic portraits produced in the post-Antique world, it more closely reflected the features of the contemporary Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who visited Paris in that period (c.1400–1402), than the visage of Constantine I. As only a few copies survive, this medal is an important historical artifact in the European tradition and is a great illustration of the dawning of the Renaissance. The ANS is very proud to have in the collection this companion to our Heraclius piece.


Fig. 1. France. Constantine I commemorative bronze medallion, artist unknown, ca. 1400. (ANS 2008.9.1, purchase) 87.0 mm.

Another interesting cast medal of the early Renaissance period in the collection (Fig. 2) represents the bust of Ulysses Musotti (Ulixes Musotus, 1508–1515). On one side, this Bolognese lawyer is shown wearing a “skullcap”; symbols of intellectual work—a globe, compass, sand clock, candle, ink cup, paper, scissors, and books—appear on the other. This medal was attributed by Dr. Julius Friedländer to Francesco Raibolini (called “Francia,” 1450–1517), a leading artist of the Italian Renaissance. Francia gained distinction for his splendid medals of Pope Julius II and for a substantial number of medals of the Italian princes passing through Bologna at the beginning of the sixteenth century.


Fig. 2. Italy. Ulysses Musotti (Ulixes Musotus, 1508-1515). Bronze portrait medal, by Francesco Raibolini (1450-1517). (ANS 2008.9.7, purchase) 65.6 mm.

Two cast medals—one, with the image of Nicolo (Niccolo) Verzi, a jurist of Capo d’Istria (Capodistria) (Fig. 3), and the other, containing the portrait of Marco Mantova Benavidi (1489–1582), a professor of jurisprudence at the university of Padua (Fig. 4)—represent the work of Giovanni de Bartolommeo Cavino (Giovanni Cavino, 1500–1570). There is also a fine struck example of a Cavino medal, one bearing the image of Dulci (Giovanni An. Vin.), a jurist of Padua (Fig. 5). Cavino was a notorious Paduan medalist and goldsmith known for his excellence in crafting the dies for a series of struck pieces that imitated ancient coins, particularly Roman sestertii. However, he also struck portrait medals of contemporary Paduan notables. The style of their effigies is delicate, keen, and particularly individualized. The images on the reverses—such as a half-draped female raising her hands toward the sun or crushing a serpent, an image of a Roman temple, or an allegorical representation of Genius—like many other designs on Cavino’s works, show a strong connection with the Classical sources of the Roman artistic tradition.


Fig. 3. Italy. Nicolo (Niccolo) Verzi. Bronze portrait medal, by Giovanni Cavino (1500-1570). (ANS 2008.9.3, purchase) 33.0 mm.

Fig. 4. Italy. Marco Mantova Benavidi (1489-1582). Bronze portrait medal, by Giovanni Cavino (1500-1570). (ANS 2008.9.4, purchase) 37.0 mm.

Fig. 5. Italy. Dulci (Giovanni An. Vin.). 1539. Bronze portrait medal, by Giovanni Cavino (1500-1570). (ANS 2008.9.8, purchase) 37.0 mm.

Another interesting Renaissance medal is a handsome cast uniface bronze (Fig. 6) of Hans Fries (Johannes Frisius, 1505–1565), a Zurich scholar and lexicographer. This piece is the work of Jakob Stampfer (1505/6–1579), a leading Swiss medalist and die cutter who developed his skill in southern Germany and, upon returning to Switzerland in 1530, became master of important public offices in Zurich. There, he issued portrait medals of Swiss reformers and oversaw the introduction of both large-scale production and the first mint mechanization in Switzerland. This new ANS medal, designed by Stampfer in 1540, is a fine example of the Swiss Renaissance medallic tradition and an important addition to our collection.


Fig. 6. Switzerland. Hans Fries (Johannes Frisius, 1505-1565). PB portrait medal, by Jakob Stampfer (1505/6-1579). (ANS 2008.9.2, purchase) 39.0 mm.

One of the most outstanding silver examples in the Kisch collection (Fig. 7) is known as the Cambyses’ Justice or Judgment of Cambyses medal. This important Renaissance piece shows a legendary scene connected with the harsh ancient Persian king Cambyses. It was clearly intended by the artist to demonstrate in the most dramatic manner the wisdom, justice, and personal responsibility required of judges. The obverse illustrates an incident as told by Herodotus (5.25): “Otanes’ father Sisamnes had been one of the royal judges; Cambyses had cut his throat and flayed off all his skin because he had been bribed to give an unjust judgment; and he had then cut leather strips of the skin which had been torn away and covered therewith the seat whereon Sisamnes had sat to give judgment; which having done, Cambyses appointed the son of his slain and flayed Sisamnes to be judge in his place, admonishing him to remember what was the judgment-seat whereon he sat.”


Fig. 7. Germany. Cambyses’ Justice or the Judgment of Cambyses. Silver medal, mid-sixteenth century AD. (ANS 2008.9.5, purchase) 52.6 mm.

The moralizing effect of Cambyses’ acts is emphasized by the inscription on the medal’s reverse: “Cambyses respected law and justice as one can perceive from punishment.” Interestingly, the Cambyses medal came to the Kisch collection from a famous lifelong collector, Dr. Edward Gans, professor of the Near Eastern Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Gans had obtained it in 1940 from the collection of Dr. Nussbaum, who originally acquired it in 1937 from the Zentralbibliothek, in Zurich. Dr. Philip Lederer, who catalogued the Nussbaum collection, dated the Judgment of Cambyses to about 1550 and attributed it to an unidentified master from Augsburg, in Bavaria (the name or initial of the artist is not presented on the medal). Professor Gans felt, however, that the technique and style of the medal suggested that the medalist was instead from the lower Rhine region. Dr. Kisch, who researched the medal in comparison with the masterwork paintings The Judgment of Cambyses and The Flaying of Sisamnes (1498, Bruges, Groeningemuseum) of Gerard David (1460–1523), the early Dutch Renaissance artist, suggested that Flanders or Lower Germany are indeed much more probable as the medal’s place of production than is Bavaria. He likewise dated the issue to the mid-sixteenth century.

An interesting portrait of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (Jean d’Oldenbarnevelt, 1547–1619), one of the greatest statesmen and diplomats in early modern European history, is represented on a medal of the late Dutch Renaissance period (Fig. 8). Serving the United Provinces as Pensionary of Rotterdam and Advocate of Holland, Oldenbarnevelt laid the legal foundations of the United Provinces, and his statesmanship as a constitutional libertarian helped plot the country’s course through to the modern Netherlands of today. A skilful negotiator, he performed various diplomatic missions and succeeded in concluding a truce with Spain in 1609, demonstrating the independence of the United Provinces. At the head of the Republican Party, he opposed the ambitions of the hereditary Stathouder of the Netherlands, Maurice of Nassau, the Prince of Orange, which led to the advocate’s downfall. Oldenbarnevelt was exposed to violent attacks when the religious turmoil between Calvinists and Arminians boiled over, and he was arrested and arraigned before a special court of twenty-four members—nearly all of them his personal enemies. On May 13, 1619, the elder statesman, at the age of seventy-one, was beheaded. The ANS’s newly acquired bronze medal, made in 1619 by the Dutch artist Simon in commemoration of Oldenbarnevelt’s life and death, is a small recognition belatedly paid him by his country for forty-three years of devoted service.


Fig. 8. Netherlands. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (Jean d’Oldenbarnevelt, 1547-1619). Bronze commemorative medal, by Simon, 1619. (ANS 2008.9.10, purchase) 46.7 mm.

Also among the new Kisch medallic accessions is a bronze commemorative piece (Fig. 9) bearing the image of Giovanni Vincenzo Gravina (1664–1718), Italian jurist and littérateur. At the age of sixteen Gravina went from Calabria to Naples to study Latin, Greek, and law. Upon his graduation in 1689, he came to Rome, where he taught civil and canon law, juristic activities that did not, however, cause him to lose his love of poetry. In 1690, under the name of Opico Erimanto, he became a co-founder of the Accademia degli Arcadi of Rome, devoted to poetry; later, he tried unsuccessfully to establish an “Anti-Arcadia” for other fields. Gravina had just been called to an important chair of law at the University of Turin when he fell ill and died at Rome in 1718. Our medal’s portrait of Gravino was designed in 1805 by Tommaso Mercandetti (1797–1821), a renowned Roman medalist, who achieved a realistic image of the gifted scholar, poet, and educator. In connection with the allegorical allusions on its reverse, this work is an impeccable representation of eighteenth-century neoclassicism in medallic art.


Fig. 9. Italy. Giovanni Vincenzo Gravina (1644-1718). Bronze portrait medal, by Tommaso Mercandetti (1797-1821), 1805. (ANS 2008.9.17, purchase) 67.0 mm.

The extensive series of pieces bearing representations of famous lawyers, scholars, and legal politicians continues with medallic works of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among the images of this portrait gallery are a representation of Jacques M. Curasson (1790–1842), French civil-code jurisconsult, designed by Jemaire (1844) (Fig. 10); an artistic bronze medal dedicated to V. H. J. Delecourtof, president of the Rechtbank in Brussels (1855) (Fig. 11); and a marvelous impression of Alphonse Nothomb (1817–1898), Belgian minister of justice (1855) (Fig. 12). The last two of these medals are spectacular works of Leopold Wiener, a Belgian sculptor and engraver of the second half of the nineteenth century. Among other masterworks of this period is a fascinating bronze plaque designed by Ch. Samuel (Fig. 13), with an image of Charles Alexandre Louis Graux (1837–1910), a Belgian lawyer and professor at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles who was an authority on stichometry, a leading freemason, and Belgian minister of finance (1878–1884). Also included in the collection is a bronze shell (Fig. 14) from an original bronze medal dedicated to the famous Prussian naturalist and explorer Baron Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), designed by Swiss-born Berlin Royal Mint Engraver Henri Francois Brandt (1789–1845). An interesting uniface bronze plaquette (Fig. 15) was designed at the beginning of the twentieth century by the eminent French artist Jean-Marie Camus (1877–1955); it bears a representation of Paul Camille Hippolyte Brouardel (1837–1906). A professor of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris and a member of the French Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, Brouardel had a great interest in the application of the forensic sciences to the legal system in relation to criminal and civil actions. For many years he was an forensic expert and president of the French Society of Forensic Science and Criminology.


Fig. 10. Jacques M. Curasson (1790-1842). Bronze commemorative medal, by Jemaire, 1844. (ANS 2008.9.13, purchase) 54.0 mm.

Fig. 11. Belgium. V. H. J. Delecourtof. Bronze commemorative medal, by Leopold Wiener, 1854. (ANS 2008.9.12, purchase) 62.0 mm.

Fig. 12. Belgium. Alphonse Nothomb (1817-1898). Bronze commemorative medal, by Leopold Wiener, 1855. (ANS 2008.9.14, purchase) 67.0 mm.

Fig. 13. Belgium. Charles Alexandre Louis Graux (1837-1910). Bronze commemorative plaque, by Ch. Samuel. (ANS 2008.9.11, purchase) 51.0 x 69.0 mm.

Fig. 14. Germany. Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). Commemorative bronze shell by Henri François Brandt (1789-1845). (ANS 2008.9.26, purchase) 76.0 mm.

Fig. 15. France. Paul Camille Hippolyte Brouardel (1837-1906). Bronze commemorative plaque, by Jean-Marie Camus (1877-1955). (ANS 2008.9.28, purchase) 91.5 x 76.5 mm.

The ANS’s existing collection of Vatican medals, which already contributes much to a numismatic understanding of the sophisticated history of the Papal State and various religious movements, triumphs, and losses, was enriched by a curious unsigned bronze medal of Pope Pius IX (1792–1878) (Fig. 16). This work commemorated the First Vatican Ecumenical Council, held at Rome in December 1869. It bears a realistic depiction of the Pope wearing the zucchetto, mozzetta, and stole on the obverse, and on the reverse, an image of the North Transept of St. Peter’s Basilica, where the first of the ecumenical council’s three sessions took place. During the council, there was discussion and approval of two new constitutions: the Dei Filius, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, and the Pastor Aeternus, the First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, dealing with the concepts of the Pope’s primacy and infallibility. The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 interrupted the council, which was suspended following the entry of the Italian Army into Rome and never resumed. (Officially, it was only closed in 1960 by Pope John XXIII, during the preparations for the Second Vatican Council.)


Fig. 16. Papal State. The First Vatican Ecumenical Council. Bronze commemorative medal. December 1869. (ANS 2008.9.25, purchase) 72.5 mm.

Another fine addition to the cabinet is a group of medals dedicated to European universities, libraries, research institutions, and students’ societies. Among these is a peculiar silver issue (Fig. 17) with images of students from three of the oldest German universities, those of Leipzig, Wittenberg, and Jena. One is depicted holding a large cup, one, a burning heart, and the third a drawn sword. The reverse inscription, “He who comes back from Leipzig without a wife, who comes back from Wittenberg with a healthy body, and from Jena without having had a fight, can consider himself very lucky,” reflects the legendarily cheerful spirit of the medieval European students’ “fraternity.” This medal was produced by Christian Wermuth (1661–1739), the famous German die engraver for the Ducal House of Saxony (1688) and King Frederick I’s court of Prussia (1703), who might be best known to Americans for his whimsical medals relating to the folly of the Mississippi Bubble and the fall of French finance minister John Law (1720s). Many of Wermuth’s works focused on satirical subjects and some are of great rarity.


Fig. 17. Germany. Silver satirical medal, by Christian Wermuth (1661-1739). (ANS 2008.9.23, purchase) 43.4 mm.

Another silver medal (Fig. 18) commemorates the two-hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the Gymnasium of Halle (1565–1765). The obverse bears an image of its founder, Sigismund von Hohenzollern, margrave of Brandenburg and archbishop of Magdeburg (1538–1566), who died and was buried in the city. The reverse shows an interesting architectural design of the sixteenth-century school building. This piece is an excellent example of the medallic work of Johann Leonhard Oexlein (1715–1787).


Fig. 18. Germany. Two-hundredth anniversary of the Gymnasium of Halle (1565-1765) foundation silver commemorative medal, by Johann Leonhard Oexlein (1715-1787). (ANS 2008.9.29, purchase) 45.0 mm.

On September 9, 1409, the Hohe Schule of Leipzig was officially recognized by a confirming bull of Pope Alexander V, and in 1909, this university—one of the oldest in all of Europe and the second oldest in Germany (after Heidelberg)—celebrated its five-hundredth anniversary. A handsome bronze plaquette by the German sculptor and medalist Max Lange (b. 1876) celebrated this event (Fig. 19). For the design on this marvelous work, Lange used an image of the holy patrons of the university, Saints Laurentius and John the Baptist, shown standing on pedestals under a Gothic baldachin, copied from the ancient large seal of the Alma Mater Lipsiensi, dated 1409.


Fig. 19. Germany. Five-hundredth anniversary of the foundation of Leipzig University bronze commemorative plaque, by Max Lange. (ANS 2008.9.21, purchase) 98 x 67 mm.

Another Kisch collection bronze medal, this one by the Belgian artist Franz Vermeylen (1857–1922), bears a beautiful interior view of a famous university library (Fig. 20). This issue memorializes tragic episodes in the history of another “Old” seat of higher learning, the Belgian university of Louvain (Leuven). The story of this institution starts in the fifteenth century, when the city, with the support of John IV, duke of Brabant, made a formal request to establish an ecclesiastical center of higher education. It was founded on December 9, 1425, by a bull of Pope Martin V, as a Studium Generale—one of the oldest Catholic universities in the world. Louvain’s constitution was based upon the universities of Paris, Cologne, and Vienna; its first library was located inside the university halls and was enlarged in 1725 in a baroque style. During World War I, in 1914, a large part of the city was burned by German troops, and the library lost about 300,000 books and a huge collection of manuscripts. The new library replacing it, one of the largest buildings in the city, was designed in a neo-Renaissance style by the American architect Whitney Warren (designer of New York’s Grand Central Station) between 1921 and 1928. But during the second German invasion of Belgium, in 1940, the new university library, which by that time included over 900,000 manuscripts and books, was again largely burned down. After World War II, the library was rebuilt once more, according to Warren’s design, and became the central library of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.


Fig. 20. Belgium. University of Louvain (Leuven). Bronze commemorative medal, by Franz Vermeylen (1857-1922). (ANS 2008.9.24, purchase) 60.0 mm.

A bronze French institutional medal of 1874 represents a view from above of the Palais de Justice of the Department of the Seine, in Paris (Fig. 21). This site was popular as a residence from the time of the early Roman governors and throughout the reigns of the French royal dynasties. Perhaps the most notable of those who lived in the palace was (Saint) Louis IX, who built the nearby Sainte Chapelle, an intimate masterpiece of stained glass and the light Gothic style. The complex of structures, rebuilt in modern times, includes various courts and also houses the Conciergerie—the former prison where Marie Antoinette was incarcerated before being executed on the guillotine. This medal, produced by French medalist Jean Lagrange, chief engraver at the Paris Mint, reflects the beautiful architectural complex of the Parisian landmark and reminds us of the human drama and dark history of that “Palace of Justice” where, during the French Revolution, Justice herself was an unwelcome guest!


Fig. 21. France. “Palais de Justice.” Bronze commemorative medal, by Jean Lagrange, 1874. (ANS 2008.9.15, purchase) 75.0 mm.

The ANS has also obtained, through the Kisch collection purchase, several other bronze medals dedicated to the punitive element of the law. This group includes a rectangular, oblong plaquette (Fig. 22) known as the Inauguration of the Prisons of Fresners-lès-Rungis—a medal designed in 1900 by Louis Oscar Roty (1846–1911), one of the greatest medalists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It presents a dramatic composition of a prisoner’s life and his release from confinement. A famous bronze concordant medal, La Cantine du Soldat Prisonnier (Fig. 23) is devoted to the prisoners of World War I. It bears, on the obverse, images of a woman and child presenting a gift or food through a small opening in a door and, on the reverse, a prisoner kissing the hand of the giver on the obverse after having accepted the package. This work is a masterpiece of the noted prolific Belgian sculptor and engraver Godefroid Devreese (1861–1941). Among other related interesting historical artifacts is a small bronze plaquette (Fig. 24) issued by the Belgian Federation of Political Prisoners in commemoration of outstanding achievement. It was awarded to Adolphe Max (1869–1939), who, during the German invasion in 1914, was serving as mayor of Brussels (1909–1939). He opposed the German government’s orders and, in punishment for his patriotic position, was arrested and deported. Escaping from his prison at the end of the war, he reached Brussels and was received by the king of Belgium as a hero. He was appointed minister of state and promoted to “Great Officer of the Order of Leopold.” In 1919, Max was elected a member of the Institut de France and the Royal Academy of Belgium. His political activities and administrative work left a deep mark on the city of Brussels and on Belgian political life in the first half of the twentieth century.


Fig. 22. France. “Inauguration of the Prisons of Fresners-lès-Rungis.” Bronze plaquette, by Louis Oscar Roty (1846-1911). (ANS 2008.9.19, purchase) 80.0 x 59.0 mm.

Fig. 23. Belgium. “La Cantine du Soldat Prisonnier.” Bronze concordant medal by Godefroid Devreese (1861-1941). (ANS 2008.9.18, purchase) 55.00 mm.

Fig. 24. Belgium. Bronze commemorative plaquette, dedicated to Adolphe Max (1869-1939), issued by the Belgian Federation of Political Prisoners. (ANS 2008.9.18, purchase) 70.0 x 52.0 mm.

A brief survey of this recent acquisition clearly indicates the great importance of the Guido Kisch collection. This colorful and varied assemblage of medals, in combination with the ANS’s own previous holdings, should contribute significantly to future researches on medallic objects in their cultural contexts. It also serves as a tribute to the memory of a great collector and encourage an appreciation of both his passion for assembling a marvelous collection and of his personal and professional belief in ideals of wise, upright, and superior principles of Justice.