UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Conditions of sociability : mobility, mutability and medaglie in early modern networks and possible publics Benzan, Carla


This thesis reconsiders a highly mobile form of portraiture, the early modern portrait medal, by examining its active role in the intersubjective relations and networks of diverse individuals. By attending to three distinct moments between 1400 and 1700, the mutability of the role of medaglie – the early modern term for portrait medals, antique coins, and contemporary coinage – is made clear. Examining the representation of medaglie in painted and printed portraits during these years allows for a comparative consideration of the medaglie’s role in historically contingent forms of intersubjectivity. Botticelli’s Young Man Holding a Medal (1473) brings to light the way that medals mediated the intimate and ambiguous interdependence that characterized courtly, middle class, and humanist culture in the fifteenth century. Through their gift exchange and the demand of the face, the portrait medal is shown to be a key player in courtly society that not only reflects the power of the ruler over his subjects, but also the interdependent nature of this power. Titan’s Portrait of Jacopo Strada (1567-8) redirects the discussion of the intimate encounter to the shifting nature of collections of medals, as they became increasingly large and regimented. The medaglie in Strada’s portrait speak to key social attributes and the changing sites where these attributes were founded. Finally, the engraved portrait of Ferdinando Cospi in his museum in Bologna (1677) thematicizes an increased distancing between the subject and object in seventeenth century galleries and museums. This distancing is complicated by the continued implication of interdependence in practices of gift giving that support claims to allegiance made by Cospi. Medaglie most often circulated according to the complex and often hierarchical conditions of friendship that dominated intersubjective relationships in many early modern networks. However, possible strangerhood and equality of membership also characterize some networks. This shift prompts consideration of the degree to which medaglie were implicated in processes of public formation. The temporally extended nature of this study and the intermediality of the representation of medaglie suggest that, as the medaglie themselves were implicated within forms of sociability, they could be understood as constitutive of proto-publics.

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