“Translatio nummorum” (Roman emperors and Roman antiquities in the epoch of Renaissance)

13.12.2014 – 08.02.2015

Main Building

Exhibition “Translatio nummorum” (Roman emperors and Roman antiquities in the epoch of Renaissance) is one of the results of fulfilment of interdisciplinary project “Translatio nummorum” dealing with study of perception and investigation of classical antiquities by antiquaries of Renaissance through the ancient coins. The project was initiated by Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences (project “Census of Antique Works of Art and Architecture Known in the Renessaince”) and Humboldt University (Berlin) along with Art-Historical Institute in Florence (Max Plank Institute) and Berlin Coin Cabinet. 

Implementation of the project assumed creation of the accessible digital database of all coins between BC 49 to AD 96 mentioned in the numismatic literature of 16th–17th centuries, including their detailed descriptions as well as images (www.smb.museum/ikmk). On the basis of the most important numismatic books from the 16th and early 17th centuries stored in the Art-Historical Institute in Florence virtual library of numismatic literature of early modern times has been created. Nowadays it confines 35 editions (http://tn.khi.fi.it).  Project “Census” (http://www.census.de) provides synthesis of literary and numismatic materials, which allows quick searching coins, mentioned in early printed editions, among genuine numismatic monuments kept in the funds of Berlin Coin Cabinet. 

Ancient coins belong to the special kind of historical source preserving all sorts of information on Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. During Renaissance these coins were not only favorite collectibles, but were playing as well an important role in rising new tide of interest to the classical antiquities. Such peculiarities of numismatic materials as its mass character as well as relatively easy availability facilitated this process. Ancient coins or their hoards belonged to one of the most frequent finds, which were being made during various constructions, perfomance of earthworks or farmworks.

Portraits of Roman emperors, which occurred on these coins along with their names contained in coin legends, encircled the portraits, draw special attention. So, each of these historical personalities, well-known from literary and epigraphic sources thanks to these very coins obtained for the first time his own unique face and it allowed to “visualize” history and produced very popular in Renaissance genre of biographies illustrated with portraits going back to coin images. However, it was not confined to the amusing histories with pictures. Humanists of Renaissance stood first to assess full value of numismatic material as source to studying ancient history, archaeology, geography, mythology, art and philology. Enea Vico, Hubertus Goltzius, Antonio Agustin as well as other prominent antiquaries of the 16th century, whose books are exhibited here investigated in detail need for study of ancient coins and layed the foundation of developing critical approach to the analysis of numismatic material as well as principles of its classification. In its turn, it marked birth of numismatics as independent scientific discipline.

During 16th century continious enlargement of number of the printed editions dealing with various problems of numismatics or monetary history might be observed. Modern scholars calculated that number of such publications in Europe amounted to no less than 1100. Though not all these writings were of the same value for numismatic science and along with works of established polymaths there were a lot of amateurish papers the general tendence of rising interest to the monetary history and recognition of its important role in perception of the past was, no doubts, evident. Appearance and outspread of numismatic tractates facilitated acquiantance of collectors as well as general public with either masterpieces of ancient numismatics or its pictorial repertoire on the whole. Influence of the antique coin types could be traced already in medal art arising in the first half of the 15th century. Ancient prototypes have been actively reproduced by the artists of Renessaince either in metal (plaquettes with portraits of first emperors and so called “paduans” exhibited on displays) or in stone (gems and their plaster casts). Images borrowed from ancient coins emerged in wall-paintings and reliefs decorating various architectural structures. So, monuments of ancient numismatics alongside with masterpieces of monumental Classical art and literature might be reckoned among those elements of Classical culture, which to a great extent encouraged formation of humanistic vision of Renaissance and defined paths of artistic development in the earliest days of modern age.

Curators: Ulrike Peter, Sergei Kovalenko.

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