Girolamo Cardano

Figures Within a Landscape

Bronze, 50.5 mm Ø, 59.3 g
Unknown Milanese medallist, c. 1550.
Obverse:  Bust of Girolamo Cardano facing right, wearing doublet and coat. Around, HIER · CARDANVS · AETATIS · AN · XLVIIII (Girolamo Cardano, Aged 49 Years).
Reverse:  A group of figures walking to the left, approaching a vine growing on a tree. In the background, two figures approach a cottage within a mountainous landscape. Below, ONEIPON (Dream).

Girolamo Cardano, born in Pavia on September 24, 1501, was an Italian polymath known for his work as a physician, mathematician, and philosopher, among other interests. He had a varied career, publishing a number of books, was a lecturer in mathematics in Milan, then professor of medicine in Pavia from 1543 to 1552 and in Bologna from 1560 to 1570. In 1552 he was court physician to King Edward VI of England and to the archbishop of Scotland. Cardano was arrested by the Inquisition in 1570 and held for several months. He was no longer permitted to publish after his release, but he travelled to Rome where he was granted membership by the College of Physicians and given a pension by Pope Gregory XIII. Cardano then wrote his autobiography, De Propria Vita, which was published posthumously in 1643, and would die in Rome on September 21, 1576.

The medal's reverse refers to a dream recounted in Cardano's autobiography which he had in 1534 while in Milan. In the dream, Cardano asked a crowd surrounding him where they were heading. Their reply of "To Death" spurred him to grasp a withered vine and climb up a nearby mountain, upon which he then found himself with a twelve year old boy heading for the safety of a cottage. Cardano interpreted the dream as reflecting the harshness and sadness of his life, while the harvested vine showed his glory and his grandson gave him solace. The medal has sometimes been attributed to Leone Leoni. However, Attwood notes that the style argues against this attribution.

Published:

This piece illustrated in Toderi and Vannel 2000, pl. 15 no. 67.

References:

Attwood 2003, no. 97

Pollard 2007, no. 497

Toderi and Vannel 2000, no. 67