- Museum number
Medal made of cast and chased gold. (whole)
Bust of Elizabeth, almost full face, crowned, ruff open in front, erect behind, gown puffed in diamond-shaped pattern and jewelled. Large rose. (obverse)
A bay-tree uninjured by lightning and winds, flourishing upon an island. Two ships in the distance, E. R. upon the field. Border of leaves. (reverse)
- Production date
Diameter: 44 millimetres
- Curator's comments
With the revived interest in fifteenth-century Italy in the history of ancient Greece and Rome, came a new passion for collecting antique coins. Rulers and scholars realised that coins, struck in durable metals, had outlasted all the other achievements of the ancients, preserving the names and appearances of the emperors for posterity. Seizing on the possibility similarly to commemorate themselves, men and women commissioned medals, which retained the profile portrait but were often bigger and more elaborate than their prototypes.
Although medals had been made of English sitters since the late fifteenth century by artists from Italy, the Low Countries and Germany, the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard appears to have been the first English artist to make medals in any numbers. It is not therefore surprising that the first English medals closely resemble painted miniature portraits in both appearance and function. The profile has been abandoned in favour of a three-quarter view, and the loops at the bottom would have been hung with drop pearls. It is probable that this piece was originally a costly gift from Queen Elizabeth herself to a favoured courtier or a political ally. Presents of this kind were often made of painted miniatures. The laurel tree on the reverse is labelled E[lizabeth] R[egina], and is therefore to be identified with the queen. The legend translates as 'Not even danger affects it', according to the legend that laurel was immune from lightning and is likely to refer to Elizabeth's resistance to the dual threat of Catholicism at home and Philip II of Spain abroad.
Medallic Illustrations 1, published in 1885, states:
Cast and chased: with rings for suspension. Executed shortly after the destruction of the Armada, and possibly as a naval reward, when the greatest dangers to Elizabeth had ceased. The Queen of Scots was dead, and the plots of which she had been the cause were at an end; James had been conciliated; the Armada defeated; the Duke of Guise was dead; France and the Vatican were baffled. The legend of the obverse alludes to the Queen's crown, the power and real wealth of which was as fully established as that of any crown in Europe. The device of the reverse refers to the imputed virtues of the laurel or bay-tree, which was deemed incapable of injury from lightning, and also a preservation to the places where it grew, or to the persons who wore it.
Lupton says, "Neither falling seeknes, neither devel will infect or hurt one in that place whereas a Bay-tree is."
See Pinkerton, J., ‘The Medallic History of England to the Revolution’, London, 1790 (fol.), vii. 7; Perry, Francis, ‘A Series of English Medals’, London, 1762, v. 2.
- On display (G46/dc6/s2/p1/no14)
- Exhibition history
2012 19 April - 25 November, Gallery 69a, British Museum, Crowns and Ducats: Shakespeare's Money and Medals
1998 9 Feb-3 May, India, Mumbai, Sir Caswasjee Jahangir Hall, The Enduring Image
1997 13 Oct-1998 5 Jan, India, New Delhi, National Museum, The Enduring Image
1996 4-12 Mar, USA, Malibu, J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, BMDT Presentation
- Coins and Medals
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: H69
- C&M catalogue number
MB1 (Medallic Illustrations 1) (154) (129)