Medals on Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror, 1451-1481
Sultan Murad II called his 12-year-old son Mehmed into government as early as 1444 in order to anticipate the claims of other pretenders. However, an uprising by the Janissaries forced Murad to return to government in 1446. Mehmed was involved in the victorious battle of Kosovo in 1448. After his father's death, he took over the Ottoman Empire in 1451.
On May 29, 1453, after 57 days of siege, Mehmed conquered Constantinople (now Istanbul) and thus sealed the end of the Byzantine Empire. Since then, Mehmed has been nicknamed "Fatih" (the conqueror). Other successful campaigns followed in Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Balkans.
The wars for Constantinople had led to a drastic decline in the population. Mehmed's administrative reforms, his guarantees for those of different faiths, his building activities (mosques and religious schools) and the promotion of economy and trade quickly led to the flourishing of the new Ottoman capital.
Mehmed made the Hagia Sophia to his main mosque. He was well trained by Islamic teachers and was religiously tolerant as long as his autocratic leadership was recognized. He strove to develop the Byzantine Empire into the Ottoman Empire and had Alexander the Great as a model. Mehmed was personally brave, interested in philosophy, science and art, but could be very cruel, even for trivial reasons. He is said to have made fratricide (all competing male offspring must be killed when taking the throne) because the succession to the throne, which was not regulated in the Ottoman state, repeatedly led to armed conflicts.
Bronze medal, ca. 1450-60 from Pisanello's workshop. Ø 61 mm.
Location: The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
MAGNVS·7·ADMIRATVS·SO - LOANVS·MACOMET·BEI·
"Great Emir and Sultan Mehmed Beg"
Rev.: A naked ancient river god holds a victory torch in a rocky setting in front of a tower.
This and the subsequent medals originated in Italy.
One-sided bronze medal, around 1460
by Pietro da Milano
(?). Ø 90-91 mm.
MAGNVS PRINCEPS ET MAGNVS AMIRAS SULTANVS Domi
"Great Prince and great Emir Sultan master Mehmet"
Bust a little forward, face to the left in profile. Along two folds of the turban: PM as a monogram.
On the turban a patterned cap with a feather to the back. In the cap 2x the word Allah (li-llah).
Cast bronze medal
n. d. (after 1461) unsigned, on behalf of Jean Tricaudet.
Ø 84,5 mm, 143,61 g. Hill 1202 (there in silver). later cast.
Obv.: Legend and portrait as before.
Rev.: +IEhAN TRIEAVDET DE SELONGEY A FEYT FAIRE CESTE PIECE in Gothic leters.
Three eagle heads in a circle.
This piece is one of four known pieces. The three eagle heads on the reverse of the medal possibly symbolize the kingdoms of Asia, Greece and Trebizond. Since the latter was conquered by Mehmed II in 1461, the medal can only have been created in the following years. Presumably it was only made on the occasion of the death of Muhammad in 1481.
The piece presented here seems to be directly "related" to the pieces in Bibliothèque Nationale de France Paris, as shown by the same design of the turban and the robe as well as some irregularities adopted in the casting. The fourth piece, which is in the Staatliche Museen Berlin, differs in the details from the first three; see Susan Spinale, Reassessing the so-called Tricaudet Medal of Mehmed II, The Medal, Issue 42, 2003, p. 15: "This survey revealed that the two Paris medals and the New England cast [the present copy, Author's note] are directly related, comprising one 'branch', as it were, of the Tricaudet 'family tree', whilst the Berlin medal represents a separate branch." [Künker-289, 3.2017]
Cast bronze medal
, ca. 1480 by Gentile Bellini (1429-1507) from Venice.
Ø 94 mm, thickness 8 mm, 340 g. Specimen in the V&A Collection, London.
Obv.: MAGNI SVLTANI MOHAMETI IMPERATORIS - Portrait with turban to the left.
Rev.: ·GENTILIS BELLINVS VENETVS EQVES AVRATVS COMESQue
Three crowns - they represent the "empires" conquered by Mehmed: Greece, Trebizond and Asia.
Mehmed II was at war with the Republic of Venice from 1463 to 1479 (especially in the Peloponnese and the Greek and Adriatic islands). After the peace agreement, Mehmed asked Venice to send artists to Constantinople. Venice had lost some colonies, but was interested in trade with the Orient and sent Gentile Bellini, her best painter, to the Turkish court. Bellini created there in 1480 an oil painting (wood 52 x 70 cm, London, National Gallery) and decorated Mehmed's private apartments with representational pictures, despite the Muslim ban on images. In this context, the medal with the portrait and the three crowns was created as an minor work. This medal came to Florence in 1480 and became the model for the following medal.
Bellini's portrait of Mehmed II was used in 1988 on the 1000 lira banknote from Turkey.
Cast bronze medal
, ca. 1480 by Bertoldo di Giovanni
. Ø 93 mm, 313 g.
Hill (Corpus) 911c; Kress Coll. 248; Scher 39. Specimen in the British Museum, London.
Obv.: ·MAVMhET ASIE AC TRAPESZVNZIS MAGNE QVE GRETIE IMPERATor
"Mehmed, emperor of Asia and also Trebizond and 'Magna Graecia' (great Greece)"
Bust to the left with turban, medallion with waxing moon on the chest.
Rev.: Triumphal chariot drawn by two horses and led by a helmeted man (Mars) who shoulders a trophy. The carriage is adorned with a garland between two lion heads, between a 'flaming throne' - a provision made by King Alfonso V of Naples (see below). A man stands on a pedestal on the chariot, dressed in boots, trousers, a belt, a waving cape and turban. In his left hand he holds a statuette (Bonus Eventus with a bowl) and in his right hand a rope with which three naked crowned women are tied to the back of the car. Around them their identification: GRETIE - TRAPESVNTI - ASIE.
Exergue: OPUS / BERTOLDI / FLORENTINus / SCVLTOR / IS "Work by Bertoldo, Florentine sculptor", flanked by the personifications of the sea (with a trident) and the land (with a cornucopia).
Florence was in conflict with Pope Sixtus IV and King Ferrante I of Naples because of the Pazzi conspiracy against the Medici. At the end of 1479, Mehmed had delivered the last fugitive Pazzi conspirator to Florence. In the spring of 1480 an envoy of the Sultan came to Florence and brought Lorenzo de Medici Bellini's medal from the Sultan. Lorenzo and his medalist Bertoldo di Giovanni quickly designed this homage medal, which the envoy took with him as a gift in return and as a diplomatic embassy to Constantinople (Istanbul). A few months later, the Ottoman fleet attacked Otranto (Apulia), which belonged to the Kingdom of Naples. The Neapolitan soldiers then withdrew in hurry from Tuscany. The medal can be interpreted as a testimony to the politically delicate and explosive deliberations between Lorenzo de Medici and the Ottoman envoy in the run-up to the Ottoman attack on Otranto. The envoy will have explained to the sultan the message of the medal and also the 'flaming throne' to be the throne of Naples, onto which Mehmed is invited (!).
Excursus: The 'flaming throne' and Alfonso V, King of Aragón (father of Ferrante)
The Arthurian legend tells: At King Arthur's 'Round Table' one seat usually remained vacant. Only a flawless, invincible knight could sit on it without being burned. This knight resulted to be Galahad, who also found the holy Grail. King Alfonso V of Aragón combined a chalice in the Cathedral of Valencia with the Grail, and thereby related Galahad's strength to himself. So Alfons came to the symbol of a throne protected by fire, as it is shown in the triumphal arch at the entrance of Castel Nuovo in Naples: A flame in front of the enthroned Alfonso V (Frieze above the entrance arch) and 'flaming throne' engraved on the breastplate of a soldier (side wall at the entrance arch).
n. d. by Costanzo da Ferrara Copper alloy, Ø 123 mm, 445 g.
Hill (Corpus) 321a; Kress Coll. 102; Scher 21. Specimen in The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
This is the undated earlier and superior version of the subsequent medal dated 1481.
"Sultan Mehmed of the House of Osman, Emperor of the Turks"
"This man, the thunderbolt of war, subjugated peoples and cities"
framed below: CONSTANTIVS·Fecit "Costanzo made it".
At Mehmed's request, King Ferrante I of Naples (1458-1494) sent his court painter Costanzo to Constantinople, where he worked for several years. The medal is believed to have been made before 1479. After Mehmed's death in 1481 and Constanzo's return to Naples, the subsequent new edition of the medal was created, now with emphasized line circles and changed inscriptions. It gained wide distribution and shaped Mehmed's portrait in Europe.
Cast bronze medal
1481 by Costanzo da Ferrara. Ø 115 mm, 450,6 g. Coll. Lanna (1911) Nr.71.
Specimen in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY - Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.
Later and inferior version of the previous undated medal.
"Sultan Muhammad Ottoman Byzantium Emperor"
Rev.: MOHAMETH·ASIE·ETERETIE·INPERATORIS·YMAGO·EQVESTRIS·IN EXERCITVS
(ETERETIE instead of right ET GRETIE) between the hooves:
OPVS / CONSTANTII
Look at the two portraits from the Sarai Album (Turkish illustrated manuscripts in the Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul), late 15th century: Hazine 2153, folio 10a
(attributed to Sinan Bey) and folio 145ba
A Venetian contemporary witness noted the statement of Bayezid II, son and successor of Mehmed: "His father was bossy and did not believe in the prophet Muhammed". The pious Bayezid II had all the representational paintings removed from his father's possession.
• Franz Babinger: Mehmed der Eroberer. München 1953, Nachdr. 1987
• Stephen Scher (ed.): The Currency of Fame - Portrait medals of the Renaissance. NY 1994
zu Costanzo: S.87ff / zu Bertoldo: S.126ff
• George F. Hill: Medals of Turkish Sultans, NC 1926, pp.287-298 & pl.XIV - im Netz
• Emil Jacobs: Die Mehemmed-Medaille des Bertoldo, in: Jahrbuch der Preußischen Kunstsammlungen
Bd.48 (1927) 1-17 - im Netz
• Susan Spinale: Reassessing the So-Called 'Tricaudet Medal' of Mehmed II, The Medal 42 (2003) 3-22
• J. Raby: Pride and Prejudice: Mehmed the Conqueror and the Italian Portrait Medal, Studies in the History
of Art Vol. 21, Symposium Papers VIII: Italian Medals (1987), pp.171-194 - im Netz bei jstor.org
• Christopher Eimer: An early portrait relief of Sultan Mehmet II, The Medal 74, Spring 2019 & im Netz.