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Impresa.  A personal symbol on a medallic item. Invented by the founder of art medals, Pisanello (1395-1455), the impresa was widely used on Renaissance medals, usually on

the reverse. It would be obscure to most observers since it was of mysterious nature, but understandable to those who knew the person portrayed. The symbol or device was usually accompanied by an inscription (and in later use in both seals and heraldry, the impresa meant either the symbol or the legend). The impresa was the forerunner of the modern trademark or logo, symbolic identifications for an organization or institution. The modern trend for such a symbol, however, is clarity, in contrast to the original meaning draped in obscurity.

Renaissance medal authority Lottie Salton, in the introduction to her husband's and her catalog, The Salton Collection; Renaissance & Baroque Medals and Plaquettes, wrote about the impresa (see box).


                 Origin Of The Impresa                   


 "It soon developed into a personal emblem of a sort,    

 and numerous rules were formulated by learned men as    

 to what constituted a suitable impresa; it had to be    

 mysterious, while at the same time revealing to those   

 who knew enough about the sitter. The humanist Angelo   

 Poliziano (1454-94) reportedly complained that every    

 bumpkin bothered him with requests for a secret device  

 comprehensible only to his loved one, inscrutable to all

 others. The best known inventor of such riddles was Paolo

 Giovio (1493-1552) of Como, a historian of considerable 

 erudition whose Dialogue of Warlike and Amorous

 Devices, first published in 1555, went into several

 editions within a few years."                                    


                      – Lottie Salton, Introduction,    

                         O11 {1959} Salton Collection.   

In cataloging Renaissance medals the symbol should e identified as an impresa,

but it may not be possible (or necessarily required) to decipher its significance because of its obscurity. Impresa is pronounced em-PRAY-za; its plural is impresse (em-PREZ).


O11 {1959} Salton. 

S3    {1974} Hall, pp xvi-xvii.

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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