Design for a Papal Medal : Pope Clement VII and a Young Emperor with Vulcan

WAG 1995.245


Traditionally papal medals were produced to celebrate Holy Years when, every 25 years, the pope would forgive all repentant sinners visiting Rome. This drawing is one example of the many tasks that the architect/painter/designer Peruzzi performed for the papacy during the reign of Giulio de' Medici, Pope Clement VII (1523-34). The design was intended for the reverse of a papal medal celebrating the Jubilee Year of 1525, but it was never used, probably due to its overtly political message. Giulio de' Medici's ascension to the papal throne in 1523 was originally supported by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1519-1556), who is probably represented by the man in armour on the left. However, in February 1525 the Emperor's troops had defeated the papal-backed French army at the Battle of Pavia in northern Italy, increasing Charles V's control over Italy and severely damaging papal power. The Emperor's troops later went on to plunder and 'Sack' Rome in May 1527, temporarily imprisoning Peruzzi. As Peruzzi's design was no longer politically appropriate it seems to have been rejected. Instead, the medal struck for the Jubilee Year 1525 showed the Pope opening the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica, a purely ceremonial and apolitical event that only occurred in Holy Years. The drawing's close link to one of the foremost Medici popes, Clement VII, who completed the Sistine Chapel by commissioning "The Last Judgment" from Michelangelo, must have attracted William Roscoe, who idolised the Medici, to purchase it from Ottley's collection in 1814. When this drawing was auctioned at William Roscoe's bankruptcy sale on 23 September 1816 as lot 93, it was sold along with another drawing by Peruzzi, (now WAG 1995.245.1-2), which had also previously been in in the collection of William Young Ottley, the pioneering English collector of early Renaissance art. The reverse of that drawing (WAG 1995.244.2) seems to show a rough architectural sketch for the entrance to a Roman palace. It shows Peruzzi's versatility as a designer that he could move easily from designing medals for minting, to building palaces. On his death he was honoured by burial in the Pantheon alongside Raphael, with whom he had worked in the Vatican and the Villa Farnesina.