Fine art has always been a popular subject on modern coins. Reproductions of some of the world’s great paintings are popular, and even pottery has attracted an interesting series or two. Sculpture, because of its fundamentally three-dimensional nature, is a little harder to depict on a small coin, but Italian dealer Powercoin, along with super-producer CIT Coin Invest, decided they could do a good job of it. They were wrong. They did a fantastic job.
Eternal Sculptures debuted in 2016 and sees just a single release annually. Each coin is struck in two troy ounces of 999 silver, and has a diameter of 38.6 mm. That diameter is pretty standard for a one-ounce coin and in this case, the extra weight has gone on making the coin thick enough to enable impressive levels of relief. These coins easily satisfy the moniker Ultra-High-Relief (UHR), a term bandied about far too readily in some cases.
The series has a tight design ethos that ties all the various coins together. An intricate patterned border on the reverse face surrounds the main subject, although it is different for every release, and incorporates the date in Roman numerals. A simpler border pattern occupies the same space on the obverse and remains common to them all. The national shield emblem of Palau – the issuing state – also sits here. The central area on both faces is finished with CIT’s ‘Black Proof’ process, which gives the white ‘marble-textured’ sculpture subject the contrast needed to stand out.
The main feature of these coins remains the reproduction/representation of a sculpture. They literally ‘pop’ from the surface of the coin thanks to CIT’s hugely impressive smartminting technology. Combining crisp changes in level while maintaining fine detail, smartminting is difficult to find fault with, and works perfectly on these coins.
Eternal Sculptures is unusual in that it employs smartminted UHR on both faces. The reverse face depicts the sculpture from the front, while the obverse depicts it from the back. It’s almost as if the coin is holding an embedded version of the original art. This area is then finished with a textured colour that almost gives it the appearance of a fine marble, like Carrara, for example. In places it runs over the border area, which enhances the three-dimensional look.
The series has now been confirmed at five issues and they’re all now on sale. Just 999 of each coin is made available.
Powercoin have issued some seriously nice pieces of numismatic art, such as the Revolutionary Mask series and the new Micromosaic passion coins, but this series just works so well we think it’s probably our favourite of them all. A timeless subject, brought to numismatic life in a restrained and classy way. What’s not to like?
Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss is a sculpture by Antonio Canova first commissioned in 1787 by Colonel John Campbell. It is regarded as a masterpiece of Neoclassical sculpture, but shows the mythological lovers at a moment of great emotion, characteristic of the emerging movement of Romanticism. It represents the god Cupid in the height of love and tenderness, immediately after awakening the lifeless Psyche with a kiss. The story of Cupid and Psyche is taken from Lucius Apuleius’ Latin novel The Golden Ass, and was popular in art.
Joachim Murat acquired the first or prime version in 1800. After his death the statue entered the Louvre Museum in Paris, France in 1824; Prince Yusupov, a Russian nobleman acquired the 2nd version of the piece from Canova in Rome in 1796, and it later entered the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
Having been recently awakened, Psyche reaches up towards her lover, Cupid, as he gently holds her by supporting her head and breast. Antonio Canova’s fine technique in carving marble contrasts their realistic smooth skin with the surrounding elements. Loosely draped around Psyche’s lower body, a sheet further emphasizes the difference between the texture of skin and drapery. Rough texture provides the basis of the rock upon which the composition is placed supplementing the distinctions of elements. Fine curls and lines make up the hair and light feathery details create realistic wings upon the landing Cupid.
The Rape of Proserpina is a large Baroque marble sculptural group by Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, executed between 1621 and 1622. Bernini was only twenty-three years old at its completion. It depicts the Abduction of Proserpina, where Proserpina is seized and taken to the underworld by the god Pluto.
As with many of Bernini’s early works, it was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, possibly alongside a portrait of Scipione’s uncle Pope Paul V (who had died in 1621). Bernini received at least three payments for the statue, of value of at least 450 Roman scudi. The sculpture was begun in 1621 and completed in 1622. Quite soon after completion, the statue was given by Scipione to Cardinal Ludovisi in 1622, who transported it to his villa. Purchased by the Italian State, it returned to the Villa Borghese in 1908.
Proserpina is an ancient Roman goddess whose cult, myths and mysteries were based on those of Greek Persephone and her mother Demeter, the Greek goddess of grain and agriculture. Just as Persephone was thought to be a daughter of Demeter, Romans made Proserpina a daughter of Demeter’s Roman equivalent, Ceres. Like Persephone, Proserpina is associated with the underworld realm and its ruler; and along with her mother Ceres, with the springtime growth of crops and the cycle of life, death and rebirth or renewal. Her name is a Latinisation of “Persephone”. Her core myths – her forcible abduction by the god of the Underworld, her mother’s search for her and her eventual but temporary restoration to the world above – are the subject of works in Roman and later art and literature. In particular, Proserpina’s seizure by the god of the Underworld – usually described as the Rape of Proserpina, or of Persephone – has offered dramatic subject matter for Renaissance and later sculptors and painters.
Leda and the Swan is a story and subject in art from Greek mythology in which the god Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces the mortal woman Leda. According to later Greek mythology, Leda bore Helen and Polydeuces, children of Zeus, while at the same time bearing Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her husband Tyndareus, the King of Sparta. In the W. B. Yeats version, it is subtly suggested that Clytemnestra, although being the daughter of Tyndareus, has somehow been traumatized by what the swan has done to her mother (see below). According to many versions of the story, Zeus took the form of a swan and seduced Leda on the same night she slept with her husband King Tyndareus. In some versions, she laid two eggs from which the children hatched. In other versions, Helen is a daughter of Nemesis, the goddess who personified the disaster that awaited those suffering from the pride of Hubris.
The subject was rarely seen in the large-scale sculpture of antiquity, although a representation of Leda in sculpture has been attributed in modern times to Timotheus; small-scale sculptures survive showing both reclining and standing poses, in cameos and engraved gems, rings, and terracotta oil lamps. Recently, an ancient fresco depicting Leda and the Swan was found at the Pompeii archeological site in Italy. Thanks to the literary renditions of Ovid and Fulgentius it was a well-known myth through the Middle Ages, but emerged more prominently as a classicizing theme, with erotic overtones, in the Italian Renaissance.
Originally commissioned by Joséphine de Beauharnais, the famous French dictator, Napoleon’s first wife, The Three Graces is a 1.82m tall sculpture in white marble. Carved in Rome by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova, it was completed in 1814 and now resides in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
John Russell, the 6th Duke of Bedford, saw the almost completed statue in Canova’s studio and tried unsuccessfully to purchase it. So enamoured by the work, he had Canova make a second, slightly different version which was carved between 1815-1817. This version, said to be preferred by Canova, now resides in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, or the Scottish National Gallery (It is jointly owned). It originally sat in a custom built top-lit rotunda called the Temple of the Graces and was one of the most widely admired works of the time.
The ‘de Beauharnais’ version was carved in a veined marble, but the ‘Bedford’ version changed that to a clean white marble. Other differences were a change from a square to round base,and a slightly thicker waist on the central figure. They remain fundamentally the same, however.
The statue, in the Neoclassical style, depicts the three charities, Euphrosyne, Aglaea and Thalia, all daughters of Zeus. They were said to represent mirth (Euphrosyne), elegance (Aglaea), and youth/beauty (Thalia). They were said to have delighted the guests of the gods by presiding over events, like banquets, for example.
As for Canova, he remains admired as one of the greatest European artists of his day and his works some of the best of any period. Born on 1 November 1757, he died on 13 October 1822. He had an impressive career, working with many of the periods great figures, even sculpting aa statue of George Washington as a Roman Emperor that was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1831. After his death, his estate was used to complete the Tempio Canoviano where his body was interred, although his heart was interred at the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, and his right hand preserved in a vase at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia. Every plaster model and sculpture from Canova’s Roman studio was removed and placed in the Tempio, which is sited on a hilltop in Possagno in the Province of Treviso.