As Europe emerged from the Middle Ages, people began to examine the culture and artifacts left by ancient empires for answers to modern questions. The Florentine Francesco Petrarcha, better known simply as Petrarch, helped initiate the revival in numismatics during the birth of the Renaissance in Italy. His ownership and appreciation of ancient coins for their historical and artistic value influenced many of Italy's most brilliant and influential citizens. His great admiration for these ancient coins also led to their replication. One of the most prominent of these engravers was Giovanni de Bartolommeo Cavino, known today as Giovanni Cavino.
Cavino was born in Padua, Italy in 1500 and produced most of his work there. Both his father and his brother were goldsmiths, but it is Cavino's work in silver for which he is best recognized today. His best-known and most notorious works are his medallic issues dealing with ancient subjects. He primarily focused on Roman emperors, using ancient coins as models upon which he would either copy, or make classical-inspired creations. Noted antiquarian scholar Alessandro Bassiano often assisted Cavino in the production of these pieces, providing both technical and historical information in addition to helping to provide a provenance once the pieces were created.
After his death, Cavino's reputation varied widely. Some looked upon him as a forger who provided ancient pieces to a gullible public. Others held him as a gifted artist creating medals that reflected the Classical civilizations. Evidence shows that the major Renaissance collectors would have been able to discriminate between Cavino's medals and the genuine ancient coins. Cavino utilized stylistic differences such as lettering and often used thinner planchets that gave his medals different weights than the ancient pieces. Any difference between the weights of the ancient and modern pieces would have served as an indicator of the status of the piece in question, if stylistic differences were not obvious.
Contemporary evidence also defends the status of Cavino as a medallist rather than a forger. Enea Vico's 1555 study of ancient coins calls Cavino an imitator and notes him for excellence in his craft. "A celebratory verse by Francesco Savonarola, published in 1560, couples Cavino and Bassiano, and says 'your life, o Caesar, will always be illuminated through their numismatic art'" (Myers 183). To the fifteenth and sixteenth century numismatist, the fact that a coin was genuine was secondary to the artistic and historical elements of the piece. A contemporary medal by Cavino was an acceptable substitute for the rare emperors and was often considered superior to a genuine worn example. Today, Cavino's medals are among the most available examples of Renaissance medallic work. He created literally hundreds of types, and today they are often available on the market for several hundred dollars. Valued for their artistry, history, and beauty, Cavino's medallions would compliment any collection of ancient coins.
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Jones, Mark. Fake? The Art of Deception. Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1990.