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A Selection of Medals by Valerio Belli

364, Lot: 341. Estimate $100.
Sold for $160. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

ITALY. Scipio Africanus (236-138 BC). PB Medal (23mm, 6.06 g, 12h). By Valerio Belli, circa 1520s-1530s(?). Draped bust of Scipio right / Africa seated right in attitude of mourning, with two sheilds and two spears at side; AFRICA CAPTA (“Africa captured”) in exergue. Attwood –; Johnson & Martini 763. VF. Cast.

From the RBW Collection, purchased from Frank Kovacs, December 2009.

Born in Viacenza circa 1468, Valerio Belli became one of the most celebrated gem engravers of the 16th century. He was praised by the famous painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari, author of the Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, for both his technical skill (Vite, v, p. 379) and remarkable collection of antiquities (Vite, v, p. 382). We know he was working in Rome by 1520, if not earlier, and mingled with such towering figures of Renaissance art as Michelangelo and Raphael, who painted a portrait of the engraver. He was also in the circle of the scholar and poet Pietro Bembo, and in 1505 served as a broker in the sale of a Ptolemaic gold coin of Berenice that Bembo was particularly interested in acquiring (Attwood p. 206). Following the sack of Rome in 1527, Belli returned to Viacenza where he produced his most famous work, the casket commissioned by Pope Clement VII as a wedding gift for Henry II of France and Catherine de’Medici, now housed in the Pitti Palace, Florence.

In addition to his gem engraving and metalworking, Belli was responsible for a number of medals dealing with subjects relating to antiquity. None of these medals are signed, but Belli’s unique style makes the majority of them quite easily recognizable. Frustratingly, the dating and chronology of his medal production is not readily apparent.