Pope Innocent XII

Woman Walking Left

Bronze, 85.7 - 86.8 mm Ø, 141.4 g, rims 2.5 - 2.9 mm
By Giuseppe Vismara, Undated (c. 1691 - 1700).
Obverse:  Bust of Innocent XII facing left, wearing mozzetta, decorative stole, and camauro. Around, . INNOCENTIVS XII . PONT . MAX (Innocent XII, Supreme Pontiff). On truncation, I . V . F .
Reverse:  Allegorical figure of a woman walking left, holding a patriarchal cross and olive branches in her right hand and trampling a demon underfoot. In her raised left hand she offers a pot upwards towards a radiant dove. Around, OLLA SPEI MEÆ . PSAL . 59 . (Pot of My Hope, Psalm 59).

A cast medal referring to a confidence that the Church will find victory over Her enemies. The reverse inscription and presence of a literal pot in the design is a pun on the pontiff's family name of Pignatelli, which derives from an Italian word for pot. For those without an encyclopedic knowledge of the Psalms, Vismara is kind enough to provide a reference to Psalm 59, from which the reverse inscription is taken (Psalm 60 under Masoretic numbering). The theme of Psalm 59 is that the people of God will prevail after many troubles. The psalm starts with a lament by the people that God has abandoned them and let the enemy win, to which God replies by asserting his rule over the land. The people again lament, but now with the realization that God will help them.

The female figure on the reverse, holding a patriarchal cross, is representative of the Church. Trampling a demon (possibly representing heresy) underfoot and holding olive branches, a wish for victory over the Church's enemies and of peace is understood. She offers towards the Holy Spirit (represented by a radiant dove) a physical "pot of hope" representing the pope. In this sense, the medal expresses not only hope for the Church as a body, but perhaps more strongly for hope in the abilities of Innocent XII himself to lead the Church towards victory and peace (or more generally, to have a good and just reign). With this understanding of the theme, the medal might date to the beginning (c. 1791-2) of the pope's reign, when one would look with hope towards the future for the Church under a new pontiff.

Innocent XII, born Antonio Pignatelli, was elected to the papacy on July 12, 1691. The family name of Pignatelli derives from the Italian word pignatta, referring to a type of earthen pot often used for cooking. In the Neopolitan region, from where the Pignatelli lineage hails, the word is written as pignata (pignate for plural). Various legends surround the reason for the derivation of the familial name. A most basic explanation is that a person who was involved in the craft of making pots adopted it as a surname, similar to the name of Potter in English. A more romantic story details an exploit of a fellow name Landolfo, a captain of troops undertaking an assault on the Imperial Palace of Constantinople. Legend tells that he emerged from the palace with three large silver pots as booty, and thus his surname and coat-of-arms (which features three silver pots) were then derived. Another legend tells the story of Gisulfo, who, in fighting a naval battle against the Byzantines, ran low on ammunition yet won the battle by launching three flaming pots towards the enemy.


Illustrated in Miselli 2001, no. 354.


Frank Sternberg XXXIV, 22-23 October 1998, lot 873 (ex Jesuit Seminary Stonyhurst, Lancashire, England).


Miselli 2001, no. 354