Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Silver medal consisting of two repoussé plates joined.(obverse) Constantine the Great on horseback.
    (reverse) Two women, one old and draped from head to foot, the other young and naked from the waist up, either side of the Cross and Tree of Life. From the mouths of two serpents at the top of the Cross flows water which is conveyed by two more serpents, whose tails are grasped by an infant (?Hercules) to the basin beneath it. Through an opening cut in the base of this, above which is an animal (?a lion), the foot of the Cross is visible, entwined by another serpent. The half-naked girl tramples an animal (?a weasel) beneath her left foot. Through her right hand runs a cord which is attached to the bird (?an eagle) perched behind her. A similar bird perched behind the older woman is unattached.


  • Producer name

  • Date

    • 1402
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Diameter: 88 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Comment

        In field, either side of Cross.
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Translation

        Constantine, faithful in Christ our God, leader and ruler of the Romans, Emperor for ever.
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

      • Inscription Content

        (cross) MIHI : ABSIT : GLORIARI :. .: NISI : IN : CRVCE :. .: DOMINI : N0STRI : IHV : XPI:.
      • Inscription Translation

        Far be it from me to boast of anything but in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Comment

        In field beneath horse.
  • Curator's comments

    Jones 1
    Other examples:
    (a) Cabinet des Médailles, Bibliothèque Nationale, 58 rue de Richelieu, 75084 Paris, France, repoussé silver, 88 mm, from the Frignon de Montagny collection. Almost identical to the British Museum example.
    (b) Munzkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 1-3 Bodestrasse, 102 Berlin, Germany, cast bronze, 92.5 mm (86 mm without rim).

    The obverse legends of both this and the Heraclius medal (registration no. M.0268) show a knowledge of the Byzantine chancery formulae in use at the time probably derived from one of the officials who accompanied Manuel II Palaeologus on his visit to Paris from 1400 to 1402 (see 26).
    The reverse legend is a quotation from St Paul's epistle to the Galatians, Chapter 6, verse 14.

    The curious harness on the emperor's horse is probably designed to allow it to be led in procession (see 2).

    The reverse allegory is taken from St Paul's epistle to the Galatians. It shows Abraham's wives Sarah and Hagar (see Genesis ch. 16) representing respectively the Christian and Judaic covenants. Hagar is a slave to the Judaic law, represented by the eagle to which she is attached by a leash. She represents a legalistic approach to morality which concentrates on crushing sin under foot. Sarah, the new church, is not under the law. She ignores the eagle behind her and gazes raptly at the Cross, which is also the lignum vitae and the source of the River of Life (see 30).

    The inventory of the collections of Jean, duc de Berry (see 9) records that he bought the piece from which this medal derives from Antoine Manchin (Antonio Mancini), a Florentine merchant, at Bourges on 2 November 1402. Since the figures of Sarah and Hagar are based on an illuminated manuscript by the Limbourg brothers which was begun in spring 1402, the piece bought by the duc de Berry must date from that year (see 30). The inventory records that he had cast gold copies made of this and the Heraclius medallions and it is presumably from these copies that existing examples are derived.¹
    The relative age and fidelity to the original of the different surviving variants of the medals has been the subject of much discussion. It has generally been concluded (see for example 15, 26) that the variety with arabic numerals² must be later than that (see registration no. 1921,1014.26) without, because the numerals are not mentioned in the inventory and the use of 4 instead of X was not common until the end of the fifteenth century. Against the latter point it can be argued that the evidence of the numerals is not conclusive, since a coin of Graz dated 1445 bears the modern form of 4 (see 16). More important the silver repoussé examples are the largest, where internal measurements are concerned, and the most detailed surviving. Other examples seem to be derived from them (see 1921,1014.26) rather than vice-versa and they are the product of a gold or silversmith's rather than a medallist's technique (copies of medals, from the fifteenth century onward, are almost always cast). It seems likely therefore that these are the earliest surviving examples of the Constantine and Heraclius medals and possible that they date from the fifteenth century.³

    The very close connections between the medallions and the work of the Limbourg brothers makes it likely that they were made either by one or more of the brothers or by someone very close to them (see 30).

    The obverse image of Constantine appears in the Très Riches Heures fol. 51v., in a Josephus illuminated by Jean Foucquet, in a marble medallion by Amadeo in the front of the Certosa of Pavia and in books from the sixteenth century onward (see 26). Both the Constantine and the Heraclius medallions may have been known to Pisanello, and have played a part in suggesting to him the idea of producing a medal of John VIII Palaeologus. It has been suggested that the reverse of the Constantine medallion inspired Titian's 'Sacred and profane love' (see 12).

    ¹A gold example survived in the Bibliothèque Nationale until stolen and melted down in 1831.
    ²The significance of the numbers is obscure. Hill (see 15) and Babelon (see 13) both suggest that they are silversmiths' running numbers. However, since the Bibliothèque Nationale and British Museum examples bear the same number, even though so similar in fabric that they must have been made in the same workshop at about the same time, this seems unlikely.
    ³They cannot in any case date from later than the sixteenth century - see Bibliography no. 3.

    1. 'Bible Moralisée', folio 6v. BN, Ms. Fr. 166. 1402 - c.1405.
    2. The 'Très Riches Heures of Jean duc de Berry', c.1411-16, Musée Condé, Chantilly, ms. 65.
    3. J. Scaliger: 'Numismatis argentei constantini imp. byzantini' in 'Opuscula varia antehac non edita', Paris 1610, pp. 143-52. Contains letters to Freher dated 1602 and 1603 and a detailed discussion of Freher's silver, numbered specimen.
    4. C. Du Fresne: 'De Imperatorum Constantinopolitanorum ... numismatibus dissertatio', pl. IV, Appendix to 'Glossarium ad Scriptores Mediae et Infinae Latinitatis' vol. III Paris, 1678, pp. 45-47.
    5. C. Patin: 'Introduction à la connoissance des médailles', Padua 1691, p. 192.
    6. F. Van Mieris: 'Histori der Nederlandsche Vorsten' The Hague 1722, p. 69.
    7. Armand II, p. 8, no. 5.
    8. J. Guiffrey: 'Médailles de Constantin et d'Héraclius acquises par Jean, duc de Berry, en 1402', RN 1890, pp. 93-4.
    9. J. Guiffrey: 'Inventaires de Jean duc de Berry' vol. II, Paris 1894-6.
    10. J. von Schlosser: 'Die ältesten Medaillen und die Antike', Jahrbuch der Kunsthist. Sammlungen des Allerhöchstes Kaiserhauses, XVIII, Vienna 1897, p. 75 and pl. XXII.
    11. J. Simonis: 'Les Médailles de Constantin et d'Héraclius', RBN 1901, pp. 68-112.
    12. G. von Bezold: 'Tizians himmlische und irdische Liebe', Anzeiger aus dem Germanischen Nationalmuseum 1903, pp. 174-7.
    13. E. Babelon: 'Les Origines de l'Art du Médailleur' in the 'Histoire de l'Art' ed. by André Michel, vol. III, Paris 1905-1929, pp. 896-924.
    14. G. Migeon: 'La collection de M. Gustave Dreyfus (Les Médailles)', in Les Arts, Aug. 1908, p. 10.
    15. G. F. Hill: 'Note on the mediaeval medals of Constantine and Heraclius', NC 1910, pp. 110-16.
    16. A. R. Frey: 'The Dated European Coinage prior to 1501', New York 1914.
    17. W. von Bode: Note in 'Amtliche Berichte aus den Kgl. Kunstsammlungen' xxxviii (1917), pp. 316-8.
    18. W. von Bode: 'Die Medaillen von Johann duc de Berry und ihr mutmasslicher Künstler Michelet Saulmon', Archiv für Medaillen und Plakettenkunde 1921-22, pp. 1-11.
    19. G. Habich: 'Zur Medaille Kaiser Konstantins', Archiv für Medaillen und Plakettenkunde', 1921-22, pp. 12-14.
    20. V. Tourneur: 'La médaille de Héraclius' RBN 1923, pp. 67-76.
    21. V. Tourneur: 'La médaille de Constantin' RBN 1923, pp. 53-63.
    22. 'The Golden Legend of Jocobus de Voraigne', tr. by G. Ryan and H. Ripperger, New York 1941.
    23. C. Seymour: 'Masterpieces of Sculpture from the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC' New York 1949, pp. 38-9.
    24. P. Cott: 'Renaissance bronzes: statuettes, reliefs and plaquettes, medals and coins from the Kress Collection' Washington 1951, p. 195.
    25. E. Panofsky: 'Studies in Iconology' New York 1962, p. 154.
    26. R. Weiss: 'The medieval medallions of Constantine and Heraclius' NC 1963, pp. 129-43, no. C2.
    27. O. Pächt: 'The Limbourgs and Pisanello' Gaz. de B-A, 1963, pp. 109-122.
    28. G. Pollard: no. 524.
    29. M. Meiss: 'French Painting in the time of Jean de Berry - the Limbourgs and their contemporaries', London 1974.
    30. M. E. P. Jones: 'The first cast medals and the Limbourgs' Art History, vol. II no. 1 (March 1979) pp. 35-44.Jones 1990
    The duc de Berry's medals of Constantine the Great (registration no. M. 0269) and Heraclius (registration no. M.0628).
    At the beginning of the fifteenth century the duc de Berry, one of the greatest collectors of his or any age, bought a jewelled gold medal of Constantine the Great from an Italian merchant, Antonio Mancini. In all probability he believed that this medal and its companion piece, of the Emperor Heraclius, to be ancient. Certainly, he paid a high price for them and had them copied in gold. In fact, they were new, probably made for sale to the duc, who was known to be interested in acquiring portraits of the great figures in the history of Christianity.
    Published as ancient in the sixteenth century by humanist scholars like Jacopo da Strada and Hubert Goltz, the medals were denounced as forgeries in the seventeenth century. In the nineteenth, however, they were hailed as masterpieces of late medieval art, and though frequently discussed in print were never again described as fakes.


  • Bibliography

    • Jones 1990a 137b bibliographic details
    • Jones 1982 p17.1 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Department

    Coins & Medals

  • Registration number


  • C&M Catalogue number

    • MF1p17.1
Silver medal.

Obverse & Reverse

Silver medal.

Image description



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