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Cast Medal

Cast Medal.  A medallic item formed in a mold whose walls and cavities create the surface and relief of the design. Ancient medallions were cast – including those of Alexander the Great and Philip of Macedon in the east, and of Antoninus and Justinian in Rome. Considered medallions by historians, these decorative objects were used as gifts or rewards for services, though some may have served as military standards according to authorities. After the rise (and fall) of the Roman medallions, casting medallic items fell into disuse. It was with the invention of the art medal by Pisanello in 1439 that cast medals came into their own, suddenly and with many artists taking immediate advantage of this mew art medium. Medals have been cast ever since.

Several reasons prevail for the popularity of casting medals, then as now: (1) medals can be made in a size larger than what can be struck (limited by presses and pressures, see striking); (2) medals can be made in small quantities (dies and striking imply large productions); and (3) the artist can produce the entire work in his own atelier, where the artist controls the design, the composition, the fidelity of execution and the finish.

It is a rare instance that a national authority, or a national mint, will issue a cast medal in modern time. The great exception, however, is the Paris Mint, which not only issues cast medals but happily supports this art form.

The international medallic organization, F.I.D.E.M., also supports the art form. Their biannual exhibits showcase new medals, the cast products by artists from around the world, created in their own studio. From the creators of these cast medals often come the artists who are called upon to do the medallic commissions of both private organizations and national mints.

Also new coin and medal technology comes from this international group of artists on the cutting edge of numismatic technology. The first two-part medal and multi-part medal came from this group. The first self-supported medallic item, and, of course, all the medallic objects are created by these artists. It has been predicted that any new innovation in the coin and medal field will surely come from these artists. Not only do they provide a training ground for new artists, but also somewhat of a testing ground for new techniques.

History of cast medals.  Every numismatic authority dates the medal from 1439, the year Pisanello made his tribute to John VIII Paleologus. His medal was cast and

those that followed his creation were cast. We do have those ancient cast objects of Rome that historians call medallions – along with another class of mysterious objects, contorniates – but nothing more was made like these objects, so they remain a class onto themselves. It was Pisanello's medal that was the first, the forerunner, because of its artistic acceptance, other artists imitating his medallic creations and the continued development of art medals from this date.

Pisanello's fellow Italians were very productive in their early adoption of the cast

medal. Matteo de Pasti (d1491) was one of the first. He copied Pisanello's technique of casting, but expressed his own style, as did most other early medalists.

The portrait was the most prominent device of the Renaissance. In fact, of the more than 650 Renaissance medals in the Kress collection, all but one are portrait medals. The lone medal bears a crowd scene on both sides (Kress 215). Reverse devices, as can be expected, range the gamut of medallic topics and events: mythology, coats of arms, men on horseback, birds, animals, buildings, symbols, landscapes, battles and such. All were cast.

Many of the medallic techniques and design themes were first devised for these Renaissance medals. This included the first coat of arms on a medal, the first wedding medal, the first background texture, the first square medal, the first oval medal, the first silhouetted medal, the first medal all inscription reverse (anepigraphic), the first spiral inscription, the first wide border, the first medal with a drill hole, and the first medal with a loop.

And the first trademark or logo, in its earliest form, the impresa. Invented by Pisanello, the impresa was an obscure design appropriate to the person portrayed on the medal. It evolved, until today the trademark is the opposite of obscure, it is distinctive and symbolic.

Thus casting a medal was employed, not only for the ease of conveying a design on a small metallic object, but also for the techniques of rendering that object into a medallic piece. Somewhat later goldsmiths added jewels and appliques to these objects. Some were even enameled to give them color.

Thus cast medals were the first medallic art, they are still today. Some new technology has been added to making cast medals (see cast, casting), but cast medals are still the medium of active modern medallic artists.


M3 {1967} Landowski.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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