Greatest portrait medal collection in decades goes under the hammer

Baldwin's has sold the famous Michael Hall collection of medallic portraits - widely anticipated by collectors of rare coins everywhere. The sale took place on May 4-5, but the results have only just been compiled.

Ian Goldbart of Baldwin's devoted a special section of his interview with us to the collection.

"Michael Hall has a phenomenal expertise and an enormous breadth of knowledge and appreciation of art in across the spectrum," he commented at the time, also noting that,

"It's the biggest sale of its kind to come to the market for decades - there are nearly 2,500 medals - which far outweighs the Duke of Northumberland's collection from Alnwick Castle in 1980."

As expected, the leading lights in the auction were the bronze portrait medal of Cecilia Gonzaga by Antonio Pisano (early 15th century) and the Hans Reinhart the Elder Silver Trinity Medal.

The former, featuring a half length bust of the sitter left, her hair tightly bound with a ribbon, wearing an embroidered gown and pleated skirt on the obverse and a semi-nude young woman resting her hand on the head of a unicorn lying beside her in a rocky landscape below a crescent moon on the reverse.

Portrait medal of Cecilia Gonzaga by Antonio Pisano
Portrait medal of Cecilia Gonzaga by Antonio Pisano

Gonzaga, who sadly died aged just 25 a few years after the medal was made, wished to continue her studies rather than marry, and decided to live in a convent. Her father, however, had promised her in marriage to Oddantonio da Montefeltro of Urbino.

Montefeltro was universally despised for raising heavy taxes to fund his own lavish lifestyle. He was later assassinated. Gonzaga refused the marriage, and the medal depicting her emphasises both her innocence and commitment to learning. It sold for £55,000.

Reinhart's work, commissioned by German leader Maurice, is an acknowledged masterpiece. The intricacy of the depiction of the Trinity is augmented by references intended to appeal to both Catholic and Protestant eyes, in order to soften antagonism between the groups.

Hans Reinhart the Elder Silver Trinity Medal

The work has been carefully copied a few times, but here the original sold for £48,000.

Other pieces in the sale also did well. Another Pisano portrait medal, this time cast in lead, this one of the Emperor of Byzantium, John VIII Palaeologus beat its estimate of £8,000 to bring £10,500, whilst a silver medal connected with the American War of Independence exactly tripled its £3,000 estimate.

Perhaps the most encouraging sale for any investors was a bronze portrait medal of Bartolommeo Pendaglia by Sperandio da Mantova. Mantova, the son of a goldsmith, was an acknowledged master and the piece was estimated at £8,000, but frenetic bidding shifted it all the way up to £22,000.

Collectors interested in numismatic rarities may wish to take a look at this range of coins, which is currently on the market.


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