There is a section in the new Ancient Worlds displays about fakes and forgeries and copies. So this relatively recent discovery at the Manchester Museum is very relevant.
The medallion in the photo above must have languished in what is sometimes referred to as the ‘secret museum’ (a cabinet of forgeries in the Coin Room) for the best part of a century. Keith says that although the antique style is absolutely ‘spot on’, he’s never seen a medallic piece like it that is Roman, but with Greek legend, and with no issuing city cited.
It shows a bust of Commodus facing right on the obverse within a wreath. On the reverse a lion is attacking a horse. In the portico behind, to the left, a standing figure is watching what’s going on. The Greek inscription refers to the Emperor Commodus (who reigned from 180 to 192 AD) and ‘Felicitas’ or happiness.
Keith was reluctant to accept that it was a forgery because it was so beautifully engraved, and it nagged at him for the best part of 35 years, until he came across a reference, quite by chance, a couple of years ago. It turns out it is, in fact, a perfectly genuine and very rare Renaissance medallion of c.1536 by Giovanni Bernardi (1494-1553). Perhaps we should see this as a kind of tribute piece in the way that bands copy groups like Abba, the Beatles and Blondie, to name but a few!
It’s now been added to the trays of Italian medals in Numismatics. Keith couldn’t attend the recent staff briefing, so I took it along to show colleagues and it generated a considerable amount of interest. Thanks to Keith for sharing this with us.