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Valerio Belli

Italian, 1468 - 1546

Vicentino, Valerio

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Valerio Belli was born in Vicenza in 1468, but worked mainly in Rome and Venice. He was one of the most famous hard-stone engravers of the century, rival to Giovanni Bernardi. Belli left Vicenza to work in Venice, arrived in Rome early in 1520 and was commissioned to produce works in rock-crystal by Pope Clement VII. Vasari praised in particular the rock crystal plaques engraved for the casket, dated 1532, presented by Pope Clement VII as a wedding gift to King Francis I of France on the marriage of his son, the future Henry II to Catherine de' Medici.[1] The casket is now in Florence.[2] After 1530, Belli resided permanently in Vicenza. He produced a large number of plaquettes, many of them reproducing his rock-crystal engravings and some of the work existing also in the form of plaquettes made of gold-foil mounted over wax.[3]

The medals by Belli include a self-portrait (NGA 1957.14.1312), a portrait of Cardinal Bembo (NGA 1957.14.979) and a series of fifty medals of ancient worthies.[4] The medal series may have been designed by Giovanni Lascaris, Greek teacher and friend of Belli. It is an interesting reflection of the taste for painted images of famous men.[5] The effigies in the series of medals are rather uniform in character and the reverses are unimaginative variants of ancient coin types (NGA 1957.14.980). The original specimens of the series were struck from dies, but are now known mainly in cast copies.[6]

There is a painted portrait of Belli by Raphael, an anonymous sculptured relief, a self-portrait medal and a medal portrait by Galeotti.[7]

[1] Vasari, ed. Milanesi (1880), 5: 379.

[2] Museo degli Argenti (I Gemme 1921, no. 505); Florence 1980, no. 408; Ferdinando Rossi, “Il cofanetto di Valerio Belli,” AnVi 24, no. 1-3 (1985): 193-197.

[3] A group of twelve unpublished gold foil reliefs, attributed to Belli, from the Wyndham Cook collection, exists in the Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities, British Museum, London (Register nos. 1925.10.2-7; 9-14). Six of the reliefs are after known plaquettes. A gold foil plaquette, The Entombment by Belli, is published by Charles Avery, Plaquettes, Medals and Reliefs from the Collection "L", London, 1985: no. 33.

[4] The series is published in Antonio Magrini, "Sopra Cinqunata Medaglie di Valerio Belli," Atti del R. Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, series 3, 16 (1871): 469-503. There are two series of medals, twenty-five in small format and twenty-five in large format. The article does not actually list the fifty medals, it only summarizes their content and illustrates a few of them. The original manuscript list on which the article is based is in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan (R.99 SUP.). It was prepared for the estate settlement of Belli. There is no information about the commissioning or the program for the series. The medals are listed in Andreina Ballarin, "Valerio Belli e la glittica del cinquecento," in Il gusto e la moda nel cinquecento vicentino e veneto, ed. Andreina Ballarin, exh. cat., Palazzo Chiericata, Vicenza, 1973: 145-148; and in Sarah E. Lawrence, "Imitation and emulation in the numismatic fantasies of Valerio Belli," The Medal 29 (1996): 28-29, appendix.

[5] C.L. Joost-Gaugier, "The Beginnings of the Notion of Uomini famosi and the 'De Viris Illustribus' in Greco-Roman Literary Tradition," Artibus et Historiae, no. 6 (1982): 97-115; Lorne Campbell, Renaissance Portraits, New Haven and London, 1990: 44, 56, 60.

[6] No complete series of the medals is known and the only extensive range of illustrations is in the Warburg archive, BM cab. 530, nos. 45-91; Fitzwilliam Museum, nos. 1-7, 9, 10. Habich (1922), pl. 76, nos. 1-4, 7, 9. The medals are now conveniently listed in Lawrence 1996, 28-29, appendix.

[7] The Raphael portrait once belonged to Kenneth Clark. It was painted in 1517 when Belli acted as godfather to Raphael's daughter. The painting was recorded in Lord Balniel and Kenneth Clark, eds., A Commemorative Catalogue of the Exhibition of Italian Art held in the...Royal Academy...London, 1930, Oxford, 1931: 134, no. 388, and in Old Master Paintings, Sotheby’s, London, 8 July 1987, lot 32; Christa Gardner von Teuffel, "Raphael's Portrait of Valerio Belli: Some New Evidence," The Burlington Magazine 129 (1987): 663-666; the relief is in John Pope-Hennessy, V & A Sculpture 2, 488-489, no. 517; for the self-portrait medals see NGA 1957.14.1312. A portrait medal of Belli signed by Galeotti was formerly in a private collection in Florence, diam. 5.6 cm. A poorer aftercast, lacking the artist’s initials, is recorded in the Voltolina collection (Piero Voltolina, La storia di Venezia attraverso le medaglie, 3 vols., Venice, 1998: no. 384).

[Published in: John Graham Pollard. Renaissance Medals. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. 2 vols. Washington, 2007]

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