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Bertoldo di Giovanni
Florentine, c. 1420 - 1491
Mehmed II, 1430-1481, Sultan of the Turks 1451
obverse, c. 1480
bronze, diameter: 9.4 cm (3 11/16 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
In the summer of 1479, Florentines learned that Bernardo Bandini (1420-1479), the fugitive Pazzi conspirator who had murdered Lorenzo de' Medici's brother Giuliano (1453-1478), had been arrested in Istanbul by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II. An ambassador was sent to thank the sultan on behalf of Florence, and to request the assassin's extradition. In December, when Lorenzo was negotiating peace with King Ferrante of Naples (r. 1458-1494), the ambassador returned with Bandini, who was hung.
In March 1480, shortly after a peace agreement between Florence and Naples, an envoy from sultan Mehmed arrived in Florence to present gifts to Lorenzo and to request engravers, wood carvers, inlayers, and bronze sculptors. Lorenzo's response has led to speculation that he received a cast of Gentile Bellini's medal of the sultan, as well as information on a planned Ottoman attack on the Neapolitan kingdom.
The response was to commission Bertoldo—a sculptor attached to Lorenzo's court who had recently executed a medal commemorating his patron's survival and Giuliano's assassination during the Pazzi conspiracy—to make a medal flattering the sultan. Most scholars agree that the image of the sultan on the obverse derives from Gentile's medal, enlivened by a more alert expression. Like the crowns on the reverse of Gentile's medal, the three nude captives behind the chariot on Bertoldo's reverse refer to past Ottoman conquests. The imagery of the triumphal chariot energetically pulled forward, surmounted by the sultan bearing a statuette perhaps symbolizing Good Fortune, seems to anticipate another victory—perhaps a vague means of expressing support for an attack on the kingdom of Naples. Such a recondite humanist program may well have been devised by Lorenzo himself.
Bertoldo's medal probably accompanied the Florentine ambassador sent in May 1480 to thank the sultan for extraditing Bandini. The Ottoman fleet captured the port city of Otranto in August.
Inscriptions: On the obverse, MAVMHET ASIE AC TRAPESVNZIS MAGNEQVE GRETIE IMPERAT [Mehmed, emperor of Asia, Trebizond, and Greater Greece]; on the reverse, framing the captives, GRETIE / TRAPESVNTY / ASIE [Crete / Trebizond / Asia]; between the river gods OPVS BERTOLDI / FIORENTIN / SCVLTORIS [work of Bertoldo / Florentine / sculptor].