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Medals and coins of the Age of Peter the Great

Among the art treasures left us by that stormy epoch of Russian history, the late seventeenth and the first quarter of the eighteenth centuries, coins and medals occupy a prominent place. Their importance as a source of historical knowledge was fully appreciated by Lomonosov who referred to them in his works as "numismatic history".

Coins and medals differ sharply in their purpose but the process by which they are made is essentially the same: a disc of metal, pressed between dies, is transformed into either a coin or a medal. The dies for striking modest copper coins and those designed for finely detailed medals are alike made by master engravers. The medal and coin production, - the art of medalling, - is one of the forms of glyptic. The speedy development of this art in Russia in the first quarter of the eighteenntry was made possible by the development of mintage on a highly organized basis and, in its turn, formed a necessary condition for the existence of the latter.

The minters of the Muscovite state of the pre-Petrine time used to strike small silver kopecks from blanks made of flattened wire. The little coins, weighing half a gramme, resembled fish scales as they came from under the hammer. The striking of coins of smaller denominations, which would have involved twice the amount of work, was unprofitable for the mints. In the early years of Peter the Great's reign, up to the year 1700, the silver kopeck was the monetary unit of the country's currency.

For almost two centuries the dies for kopecks retained the same design: a miniature composition showing the sovereign on horseback, carrying a downward lance (kopyo in Russian): this accounts for the name of the coin, kopeyka, which arose in the first half of the sixteenth century. The modern one-kopeck piece is big enough to accommodate freely three such compositions.

The creation of a highly developed monetary system such as was formed in Russia in the first decade of the eighteenth century, - with a wide range of gold, silver and copper coins of various denominations, - required the most progressive minting technology possible at the time. The most difficult problem, from the very start, was how to staff the mints with master engravers qualified to make dies for coins and medals. Each die was carved from hard steel by hand. The striking machine with a hammer action needed frequent changes of dies, which quickly wore out. The bigger a coin or medal, the more powerful the machine had to be and the bigger the number of dies required.

The first mechanized mint was opened by the beginning of the year 1700 in one of the subsidiary buildings of the Moscow Kremlin. At first it produced only copper coins of three types, each of a denomination of a fraction of a kopeck. The technical equipment of the mint was effected with the participation of Ivan Pososhkov, who subsequently won fame as an economist and the author of the Book on Poverty and Riches (1724). The quite satisfactory standard of the well-formed pieces coined there shows that Pososhkov tackled the problem successfully.

In 1701, in the old buildings of the Khamovny (Weavers') Yard of the Kadashevo Sloboda in the Zamoskvorechye district of Moscow, a second mint began working, known as the Admiralty Mint because it came under the Admiralty. This mint was designed for striking coins of all kinds, including gold and silver ones, and also medals. Here, new coins were issued; but until 1718 the mint continued to produce the ancient silver kopecks as well; that is why even in official correspondence it was often referred to as the Coin and Money Yard (to the Russian people of the time, only old kopeck pieces were money; the word "coin" was still unusual).

The Russian Fiodor Alexeyev was appointed Master of the Mint at the new establishment. He was quite illiterate and could not even sign his name, but he was a splendid engraver and a born engineer. After Peter had personally tested the coining press built by Alexeyev he soon increased Alexeyev's pay to the amount received by foreign masters, who then formed a privileged group among the craftsmen in the service of the state.

While travelling abroad, Peter invariably showed an interest in mints; in London it was Isaac Newton who demonstrated coining machines to him. A reform of mintage could not be achieved in the 1700s without recourse to the experience of Western Europe, either in the solution of technical problems or as regards the artistic aspect. In other words, it was necessary to invite medallists from abroad to work in Russia. From 1701 on the Frenchman Solomon Gouin worked at the Admiralty Mint. Gottfried Haupt of Saxony was the second to be invited, and came in 1704. The Dutchman Yury Frobus, "master goldsmith and coin engraver", who had settled in Moscow back in the 1660s, was transferred to the Admiralty Mint from the Armoury.

Not only masters from abroad but also many Russian mint engravers assisted at the birth of Russian medalling. The impression that foreigners played a bigger role in this process, based on the absence of signatures of Russian engravers, is not correct: it was not customary for Russian masters to sign their work.

The material of the present album is directly connected with the outstanding personality of Peter the Great, who took a steady interest in medals as historical documents. In many cases, the idea, subject matter and design of a medal or coin were suggested by him. A number of medals reproduced in this album originally belonged to Peter's personal collection, which formed the basis of the numismatic Kunstkammer of the Academy of Sciences, later transferred to the Hermitage.

The album opens with a set of most unusual pieces of the early period of Peter's reign: the zolotyie (pl. of zolotoy), campaign badges, decorations shaped as coins and having various values. They were granted to troops for military service. In keeping with an ancient custom the Regent Sophia conferred awards on all participants in the Crimean campaigns of 1687 and 1689 without exception; even the families of those who did not return received the awards due to their lost members. Despite the complete failure of both campaigns Sophia tried to present the return of the army to Moscow as a success of the commander-in-chief Prince Golitsyn, who was her favourite.

The masters of the Admiralty Mint and the Armoury produced thousands of zolotyie which looked like coins and differed only in size. The tiny bits worth a quarter of a chervonets (ducat) were distributed among the rank and file streltsy (literally, The Shooters), and large pieces of gold to the metal value of several chervontsi were for the generals. An enormous medallion with a gold chain was executed for Golitsyn personally. The larger specimens were assembled from individual parts executed by hand in the technique of chasing.

It is a well-known fact that the seventeen-year-old Peter was against these awards for a campaign that was a failure, and even refused to see Golitsyn and his generals when they came to offer thanks for them. After Princess Sophia was removed from power, the people saw these pieces as an attempt by her to detract from the royal dignity of her brothers, and to put herself in the first place. As the legends were difficult to understand, for they consisted of titles rendered, not in full, but only by the first letters of the words, the single, larger portrait of Sophia looks like the main representation, and the portraits of the two tsars as something secondary. "She ordered her portrait on the one side with crown and sceptre, and the two brothers on the other side simply in princely raiment," says a manuscript numismatic album of the 1730s.

Most likely the dies for the small campaign badges, and the large individually made gold medallions, are the work of Frobus, who was listed in the Armoury as "the first among the goldsmiths". During the long years of his life in Moscow he mastered the Russian style to such perfection that the pictures of sovereigns on the dies and medals of his making were wholly in the manner of the parsuna painting (early Russian portraiture retaining some important features of icon-painting).

The issue of the new types of coins was carried out in several stages, beginning with copper coins of the smaller denominations (an eighth, a quarter and half a kopeck piece) in 1700, and ending with the monetary units of the new system: the silver rouble, and the big copper kopeck, which appeared in 1704. But the designing of the coins had been started long before the first mint was opened. The two pairs of pattern dies for poltina (half a rouble) pieces, engraved in 1699 at the Armoury in Moscow, represent two opposed artistic viewpoints. One was designed by the engraver and silversmith Vasily Andreyev; the name of the second master is not known; probably he was Yury Frobus.

The coin minted with the first pair of dies in the nineteenth century shows the traditional parsuna composition: a portrait of Peter wearing tsar's robes and the Monomachos Cap of State, executed in direct continuation of the style of Sophia's zolotyie. The engraver of the second pair of dies was confronted with a clearly defined task: to give to the coin a resemblance to the large Western European silver taler known in Russia as the yefimok, and to use a definite composition, with the collar of the Order of St. Andrew (Russia's highest award established only a year before) surrounding the arms of Russia. Like many other earlier pieces of the 1700s, this pattern coin shows how unusual and difficult for the Russian masters was the type, borrowed from the West, of the formal portrait in the classical style, with its traditional accessories: the laurel wreath, the armour, and the mantle arranged in elaborate folds.

Russian engravers who worked on the dies for copper coins felt more at home. A ukase (decree) of 1704 proclaimed the issue of the first copper kopecks; it was explained that each bore the "image of His Royal Majesty" - the same composition which had for almost two centuries appeared on the small silver kopeck pieces and had always been taken for the representation of the reigning monarch. It is because of this that in the years when Russia was ruled jointly by Peter and his brother Ivan as co-tsars that silver kopecks of two kinds were struck, each bearing the name of one brother. The legend on the coin was a kind of explanation, as it were, beneath the portrayal. The traditional composition was easy to arrange on the bigger field of the new copper coin, which gave more freedom to the engraver. However, on all the new kopeck pieces, in place of the crown, the rider wore something like a helmet or cap.

The copper kopecks of Peter's time, known in hundreds of variations, make up an enormous series of sculptural miniature compositions. The design of the coin, the mounted warrior in a sweeping cloak, with a downward lance, had been perfected throughout centuries in Russian art. The beautifully written Russian inscriptions, and even more, the dates marked in Old Cyrillic characters, stress the national style, free of foreign influence, of these small works of art. The kopecks were issued by several mints; the mark on the oldest of them was composed of the letters БK which stood for Bolshaya Kazna (Central Treasury, the name of the department under whose authority the mint came). The coins struck by the Admiralty Mint bear the mark МД, for Monetny Dvor (Mint).

The attempt to give the copper coin a more "European" aspect was limited to a few pattern coins bearing mythological designs. The five-kopeck piece of 1723 was not approved by the tsar. It showed, for the first time, the rider fighting a dragon, or a winged serpent. This was no longer a representation of the tsar, nor was it that of St. George, for there was no halo. The figure of the rider soon lost the meaning recorded in the 1704 ukase; on the coins issued by Peter's successors, it was firmly established as the arms of the Muscovite state. To the end of the century the composition was referred to in official documents as the yezdets (rider).

From the very beginning Russia's new coins bore only Russian inscriptions and not Latin legends, as was generally done in the West. This caused considerable comment among western connoisseurs of the art of medalling. More than that, alongside with Arabic numerals introduced into general use together with the new calendar, Russian minters for many years continued to mark dates on coins in the traditional Old Cyrillic characters. There was yet another and very important characteristic feature of the new coinage in Russia: it was decimal coinage, a system hitherto unheard-of. Neither Peter nor any of his contemporaries were the inventors of decimal currency; they merely showed a sound judgement in correctly estimating the advantages of the Russian decimal system which had been evolved over the centuries. The ancient, purely proportional relations of poltina, rouble, grivna, and others were embodied in the denominations of the coins. Almost half a century had to pass before Russia's rational monetary system found recognition and followers in other countries.

The Russian custom, also unknown to European tradition, of using the zolotoy as a military award, continued to exist during the period of innovations; but it took a new form. In the first quarter of the eighteenth century, campaign medals were distributed instead of the campaign badges of earlier time. Commemorative medals came into being in Russia as a result of the influence of Western European art. The intensification of Russia's intercourse with European states, especially in connection with the "Grand Embassy", the long journey abroad by the tsar and his associates which Europe commemorated by many medals; and also the influx of foreigners who settled in Russia, enabled the Russians to see specimens of the Western art of medalling. The practice, widespread among the nobility, of setting up "mint cabinets", collections of coins and medals, which came to form an almost obligatory part of any serious library, indicates that despite their difficult artistic language, rich in allegory, and their Latin inscriptions, Western European medals aroused interest and became increasingly known in Russia. At the same time, events taking place in Russia were more and more frequently reflected in European medals.

Crowned with a victor's laurels, the "Tsar of the Muscovites" appears attended by the goddess of Victory trampling underfoot the Turkish trophies, on the medal commemorating the capture of Azov (1696). The medal was made by the well-known engraver Jan Boskam of Amsterdam, during Peter's visit to Holland. Despite the shortness of the stay of the Grand Embassy in Saxony, the important workshop of Christian Wermuth (1661-1739) in Gotha responded to the event by issuing several medals. The largest reproduces a painted portrait of Peter the Great in a robe trimmed with fur and studded with gems, a dress which seemed exotic to European eyes. The Latin legend surrounding the portrait is a translation of the traditional title of the Russian tsar; the design on the reverse, of St. George against the background of the towns of Azov and Perekop being bombarded, may be interpreted in two ways: as the arms of the Muscovite state, and as a representation of Peter. It was common in the art of medalling at the time to use this or that element of the state arms as an allusion to the person of the sovereign; for example, Charles XII was depicted as a lion on many medals.

The inscription on the reverse of the Wermuth medal, "Having opened the gates of the Crimea, he captured Azov in June and Perekop in July", testifies to the reaction, in Europe, to Russia's victory over Turkey, the country whose hosts had but recently attempted to reach the heart of the continent, and in 1683 besieged Vienna. The miniature medals from the same workshop, devoted to the tour of Europe made by the Russian tsar, depicted him on the reverse as Hercules on his travels. This metaphorical image was later developed, as new associations arose: the suppression of the streltsy rebellion invited a comparison with the fight of Hercules against the Hydra; and after the beginning of the Great Northern War, the state emblem of Sweden, the lion, constantly turned the thoughts of the artists to the image of Hercules as the vanquisher of the Nemean lion.

The successful struggle against Turkey for the northern Black Sea coast area was recorded in the first commemorative medal ever struck in Russia. Despite the date inscribed upon it, 1696, which is the year of the capture of Azov, it could not have been produced prior to 1701, when the Admiralty Mint was opened. The title of Peter on the medal was followed by the words, "By lightning and waves the Victor", and a reference to him as the augmentor of Russia's domains.

The Great Northern War was a major issue of Peter's policy. Russia's struggle for the return of the Neva banks once seized by Sweden, and for an outlet to the Baltic, was repeatedly reflected in European medalling. In Sweden and Denmark, in Saxony and Holland there appeared numerous medals, some extolling Russia, others satirical: the events were presented from a variety of standpoints.

The first victories of Russian arms were commemorated in a number of Russian medals engraved by Fiodor Alexeyev. On the medal in memory of the capture of Schlusselburg (1702) the young tsar, almost a youth, is depicted with curly hair, uncrowned as yet with the conventional laurels, wearing a light suit of armour decorated with arabesques. The legend, running close to the very edge of the medal, leaves the field free, with Peter's silhouette standing out against it in sharp relief. The reverse repeats part of Schonebeck's engraving, showing the storming of the fortress which rises on an island in the middle of the Neva. The legend, "Under the enemy 90 years", recalls the history of the Russian fortress Oreshek, renamed Noteborg by the invaders, and then, after recovery by its lawful owners, given the name of Schlusselburg, "key town".

Alexeyev also engraved the first medal connected with the history of St. Petersburg. When in May 1703 the Swedes attempted a revenge in the mouth of the Neva, they lost two ships, a snow and a yawl. The words engraved on the reverse of the medal in memory of the event, "The impossible happens", refer to the success of a daring operation conducted by the Russians, the seizure of ships by infantry transported in rowing boats. Another medal, commemorating the capture of Narva (1704), close in style to Alexeyev's work, is an answer to a number of Swedish and German medals which mocked the defeat suffered by the Russians at Narva four years before, during the campaign of 1700.

It was Alexeyev who engraved the dies from which the first roubles of 1704 and 1705 were struck. The portrait of Peter already described, which has no graphic or pictorial analogies, is on the obverse, and a representation of the double-headed eagle skillfully arranged within a circle, on the reverse. All Alexeyev's dies are remarkable for the fine lettering of the inscriptions. Through the legends on the coins it is possible to follow the development of one of Peter's most important undertakings in the sphere of Russian culture, the introduction of a new alphabet, adapted to secular use, in place of the Old Cyrillic otherwise known as Church Slavonic; curiously enough, the old letter Ξ (xi) in the tsar's patronymic and Ψ (psi), which stood for the figure 700 in the dates, persisted in purely secular inscriptions for a long time afterwards.

The majority of Russian commemorative medals of the first quarter of the eighteenth century tended to give an authentic portrayal of the event. In this they were close to "documentary" engravings recording with maximum precision the events of the period. Medals are also similar to engravings in that they can be reproduced many times. In the same way as many prints can be taken on paper from a single copper or wooden block, so hundreds of medals can be struck from a single pair of dies. The vast number of copies in an issue opened up possibilities for wide distribution and so ensured for the medals a correspondingly wide sphere of influence. The Russian government systematically dispatched medals to foreign courts, and used them for presentation to foreign diplomats with the purpose of proclaiming to the world Russia's successes and victories.

Like engravings, works of medalling art bear inscriptions which explain the sense of the representation or give some additional information. These texts must of necessity be as short as possible. In Europe, right from the time medals came onto the scene, Latin was the generally accepted language of the legends. Russian medals designed for distribution abroad also bore Latin inscriptions; some were issued in two versions - one with Latin, the other with Russian legends. But from the very beginning of Russian medalling, Russian was firmly established as the language of the inscriptions. The legends of the early eighteenth century may serve as an illustration of Lomonosov's words about the similarity of Russian and Latin as languages particularly well suited for expressing ideas in a highly succinct manner. Many of them are akin to the famous pithy utterances of Peter himself, and bear out the assertions of his contemporaries that he had a hand in designing the medals.

In course of time, the terse and simple legends were replaced with lengthier phrases, in keeping with the more complicated compositions on the medals devoted to Russia's victories in the Great Northern War.

With the introduction of medals awarded to the participants in the war Peter the Great revived the Russian tradition of bestowing awards for military service, in its customary form evolved over the centuries: the medals were conferred on every one of the participants in a battle or campaign. As with the earlier zolotyie, when the value and size of the awards had been determined by the military status of the men, the medals used in the army of Peter the Great were made either of silver, for the soldiers, or of gold, for the officers, the size of the medals depending on rank. For almost a century the policy of mass awards as a means of encouraging patriotic feelings remained solely a Russian custom. Well in keeping with the structure of the Russian army, consisting almost exclusively of Russian soldiers, it was alien to states which maintained mercenary armies. It should be noted that Sweden was the first country to follow Russia's example, by introducing medals for sailors at the very end of the eighteenth century.

It has been established by documentary evidence that the first occasion in honour of which officers were awarded medals on a mass scale, was the victory at Kalicz (1706); the soldiers then received award pieces of the old type, in the form of altyns (silver pieces several times the size of a one-kopeck coin), of somewhat irregular configurations. The designs for the officers' medals were by Gottfried Haupt, Solomon Gouin, and several Russian masters who did not leave their initials on the dies. The Hermitage collection includes five types of medals to the metal value of one, three, six and fourteen chervontsi. The laurel wreath, rich armour and the beautifully draped mantle give to the portrait of Peter the Great a stately and formal air. The same quality distinguishes the battle scene on the reverse, with its inscription "For loyalty and valour". The unusual oval form is especially effective in the medal intended for colonels, which is set in an enamelled frame studded with precious stones.

Next to Kalicz, numerous officers' medals were handed out for the victory at Lesnaya (1708), which Peter the Great called the "Mother of the Battle of Poltava". Immediately after the Battle of Poltava, together with the letters proclaiming the victory, Peter sent out the ukases (decrees) for medals to be struck for the soldiers and uriadniks (non-commissioned officers) of the Semionovsky and Preobrazhensky regiments. The medals were the size of a rouble coin and had no loops for suspension, which the recipients were supposed to provide themselves. Known as "portraits" because of the portrait of Peter the Great depicted on the obverse of all the medals, they were also often referred to as moneta, or maneta (coin) by the soldiers and even by Peter himself.

The surviving records of the awards for various years, especially the petitions of soldiers and sailors of Peter's Army and Navy who did not receive the awards they were entitled to, on time, show how highly Russian soldiers valued such medals: "...my brother soldiers of the battalion and similarly the sailors, took part in the battle and they have received Your Majesty's coins, but I, your slave, have not... May Your Majesty graciously order that I, your slave, may receive Your Majesty's coin for the above-mentioned battle, like my brother soldiers..."

The portrait engraved by Gouin for the Poltava medal ushered in an important new stage in the development of the iconography of Peter the Great. Compared with the portrait engraved by Alexeyev, it is much more manly, the head and the neck are more powerful, more vigorously modelled, the features more strongly defined. The drapery thrown over the shoulders is a feature of the formal portrait which was to become the canon for subsequent coin and medal iconography. The Poltava medal set the pattern for medals given as military awards: in all cases the campaign is named in the legend and illustrated by a pictorial representation.

The reverse of the Poltava medals, which depicts battle scenes, is the work of Haupt; his somewhat detailed manner was an ideal one for subject compositions copied from engravings. Gouin and Haupt mainly worked together, the former engraving the dies for the obverse with the portrait, the latter, for the reverse.

Russian coins of the first quarter of the eighteenth century give a fair idea of the flourishing state of the refined art of medal portraiture during the period. Between the years 1707 and 1714, even on coins of the same denomination struck in the same year, it is possible to see different portraits, each more interesting than the next. The graphic and pictorial originals of most of them remain unknown; in a number of cases it is quite possible they did not exist.

After her victory, which finally determined the balance of forces in favour of Russia, the country wished to proclaim it to the whole world. The words of Ovid Hic honor in nobis invidiosus erit on the Poltava commemorative medal fully express its aim and purpose. On the obverse is a portrait of Peter in battle array, on horseback, and on the reverse, the figure of Hercules wearing the skin of the Nemean lion. The medal was-executed in Nuremberg in the workshop of Philip Heinrich Müller (1654-1718), and this was of special significance. At all the European courts Müller's superb craftsmanship was highly appreciated. Suffice it to say that England, Austria and Sweden who had perfectly well-equipped mints of their own and also excellent engravers, preferred to commission their most important medals from Müller.

The Poltava medal is a typical example of the contemporary medalling art of Europe. The flowery language of the allegories and of the Latin legends, and the rich Baroque relief of the portrayals make of it an ode to Russian arms, a panegyric to the military genius of Peter. In 1709 the Russian public were quite ready to accept such works; they were prepared for this by the widely popular "entertaining sheets", engravings. The publication of Symbola et Emblemata issued in 1704 brought into general use a wide range of international allegorical cliches. Such cliches were not infrequent in the speech of Peter himself: "Truly the Swedish army suffered Phaeton's end." These words suggested the theme for the festive display of fireworks during the celebrations of the victory at Poltava in Moscow.

In 1714, when Russia's complete victory in the Northern War was already an obvious fact, and the long-awaited end of the war was near, Müller's workshop received a new commission, this time for a large series of medals devoted to Russia's successes in her protracted conflict with Sweden. In 1716 the completed dies arrived in Moscow where all the 28 subjects, with three variations of Peter's portrait for the obverse, were used on medals. The wide range of subjects made it possible to create different coins by varying the types for the obverse and reverse.

Müller had at his disposal plans and engraved pictures of the battles, as can be seen from the reverse of most of the medals. The introduction of mythological characters serving to disclose the meaning of the events, became obligatory: Mars with the mural crown in his hand signified the victory at Kexholm; Victory holding aloft the trident and the laurel wreath, greeted the ships of the victors at Hangö-Udd. Several compositions in the series are pure allegory, as for instance, the one on the medal commemorating the conquest of Livonia, which shows Hercules carrying the Earth on his shoulders, with the names of the conquered towns written on the globe - a direct borrowing from the Symbola.

Special attention was evidently given to the medal struck to commemorate the foundation of St. Petersburg. The field of the circular medal is overcrowded with a medley of motifs derived from mythology or from real life. Above the plan of the fortress in the middle of the Neva and the small mud-walled houses on the bank are the figures of Minerva and Mercury supporting a portrait of the founder of the city. The model of Gronschlot (a fortress guarding the approaches to St. Petersburg) in the hands of Minerva who is presented as the patroness of Russia's military power, and the bales of merchandise on which Mercury sits, serve to illustrate the inscription "Petersburg fortress and harbour". A special medal of the series is dedicated to the building of Cronschlot; instead of a portrait of Peter, the obverse shows a view of the sea.

The wording of the inscriptions on the medals of the entire series is lofty and expressive; they are derived from the writings of Ovid, Virgil, Claudius and Tibullus. When the text was too long for one side of the medal it extended to the reverse and even to the edge of the medal. Several collars were made with different edge legends, so that it was not only possible to vary portraits but also edge inscriptions.

The Müller series was designed to popularize Russia's victory abroad; but made actually in Russia, it found a ready market in the country itself. Its popularity can be judged from the fact that the original dies from which it was produced wore out quickly, and that medals from it were many times repeated by eighteenth- and even nineteenth-century mint engravers. For the Russian medallists it became a kind of school: engravers of subsequent generations continually copied the dies as patterns to be followed.

The quick growth of Russia's naval might in the first quarter of the eighteenth century also provided themes for numerous medals. The construction of ships and harbours, the naval victories and exploring expeditions, and Peter's art as a naval commander, were recorded not only in medals but also in coins. The device of the 1711 medal was repeated on the reverse of the chervonets of the same year: the double-headed eagle holds four flags symbolizing the fleets of the White, the Baltic, the Black and the Caspian Seas.

In commemoration of the victory of Russian naval and infantry troops over the Swedes, who attempted to seize St. Petersburg in 1708, a medal was struck bearing a portrait of Apraxin, one of Peter's close associates who was in command of the operation. The superb seascape on the reverse is surrounded by the meaningful legend, "He who guards this does not sleep, better death than disloyalty." At that time the Mint was under the auspices of Apraxin who was President of the Admiralty Collegium, and all the medals and a considerable proportion of the coins were made there.

On April 26, 1709, Peter inspected the harbour and fortress at Taganrog, which had been built to the design and under the supervision of Matteo Simont (Matvey Simontov), an Italian who came to Russia in 1698. Pleased with what he saw, the tsar wrote to Apraxin, "Will you order a gold piece to be struck for Matvey Simontov, with stones, to the value of, say, three hundred roubles, and on the one side let there be our person and on the other this harbour and the inscription that this is given to him for his work on the harbour." The medal received by the Italian was evidently made on the pattern of the Kalicz medal for colonels: its oval form seems to point to this.

The newly-born Russian Navy soon became a worthy rival to the mighty "rulers of the waves". The naval victories were commemorated by many Russian medals. On a medal by an unknown Russian engraver, Neptune himself leads the squadron of Russian ships in the 1713 expedition to the Finnish shores. In 1714 the Russian Navy won a brilliant victory at Hangö-Udd, which was marked by a commemorative medal and by awards for sailors and officers. In July 1716 the standard of St. Andrew was unfurled on the mast of the flag-ship of the Russo-Anglo-Danish-Dutch squadron sailing to the shores of Sweden. A medal of that year was dedicated to Peter, who was in command of the expedition. Here the idea was represented entirely through allegorical means. Neptune in his chariot drawn by hippocampi, the sea horses, is a theme frequently encountered in the art of that time: for example, on the medal from Müller's series commemorating the beginning of the navigation by Russian ships on the Baltic Sea, or in one of the reliefs made by Schlüter for Peter's Summer Palace in St. Petersburg.

After the rouble pieces of 1714 with their highly expressive portraits, no large coins were issued for a number of years. The iconography of Peter was further developed on the dies for the gold two-rouble piece and large silver coins of the Kitaygorod, or Red, Mint of Moscow, which functioned between the years 1718 and 1725. Many dies of this period are marked with the same initials, О and K, placed in different order. This freedom in the arrangement of the initials, which would be impossible in the case of a person of European origin, shows that the master was a Russian. Another type of portrait with the initial of К is found on the roubles and on the Grönhamn medal of 1720.

Despite the highly professional execution, the portrait dies of those years are inferior to the earlier ones in the depth of psychological characterization. They seem to be based on the Gouin portrait as a prototype, showing Peter at an age much younger than he was at that period, with stress on purely external details, such as the armour, the effectively draped mantle, and rich ornamentation. In 1721 the title of Emperor appeared in the legends on coins and medals; in 1722 the type of the reverse of the rouble piece underwent a change: instead of the arms of Russia, the field was occupied with a cruciform monogram consisting of four letters П (the Russian equivalent of P). This remained in use to the end of Peter's reign.

Medals devoted to events of Russian history were often issued in Western Europe independently of any initiative on the part of the Russian government. These were evidence of the country's international prestige which had grown tremendously during the Great Northern War, and of the interest aroused by the activities of Peter the Great. A convincing example of the impression produced by the tsar's outstanding personality is a medal struck in 1715, the work of Christian Wermuth, with a very meaningful inscription dedicated to Peter: "While, putting aside his sceptre, he learns the crafts like an apprentice, he grows from insignificance to greatness." The legend surrounding the portrait, anticipating events, refers to Peter as Emperor and Father of the Homeland, quite in the manner of ancient Roman titles; these epithets were conferred upon Peter by the Senate a few years later, on the conclusion of the Great Northern War.

On the known specimens of this extremely rare medal, an additional X was stamped in the date MDCCXV (1715) before the last two figures, turning it into MDCCXXV (1725). The medal was issued by Iversen, who timed it for the opening of the Academy of Sciences, as witness the attributes of sciences and trades surrounding the inscription. But the content and manner of execution place the correctness of the original date beyond doubt; the inscription and the attributes refer simply to the personality of Peter, as seen by the author.

In 1717, when Peter went to Paris with an embassy, he twice visited the boy-king Louis XV and the Regent, the Duke of Orleans. The medal struck for the occasion became one of an immense series reflecting memorable events of the reign of Louis XV, and scarcely differs from others of the same series. But the large medal struck in Peter's presence and given to him at the Paris Mint looked quite different. Peter twice inspected the presses in which coins and medals were made there; installed in 1698, they still remained a miracle of contemporary engineering. Peter kept the gold specimen of the medal on his desk to the end of his life, but unfortunately all trace of it has been lost. The Hermitage has, however, two specimens which were struck in silver and presented to persons of the tsar's entourage who attended him on this visit.

Jean Du Vivier, the medallist of the Paris Mint who engraved the portrait die, did his sketches while mingling with the retinue of the honourable guest. And though he failed to achieve any considerable physical likeness, the majestic and austere image of Peter created by him is extremely impressive. The reverse, which was worked by Michael Roeg (1685-1736), evokes the words of Theophanes Prokopovich: "World fame is Peter's worthy herald." The legend also styles Peter Emperor, in advance of time. This title, the highest ever borne by a sovereign, reflects the idea of Russia as one of the great powers of the world.

When Peter was proclaimed Emperor, this was recorded on the medal commemorating the Nystadt Peace of 1721, which was distributed at the celebrations in honour of this historical event. The composition of the Nystadt medal is based on biblical imagery which was widely used in the Russian art of the first quarter of the eighteenth century, and also on allegories derived from ancient Greek mythology. The Northern War which had involved almost all European countries was likened by contemporaries to the Deluge. That was why the medal showed Noah's Ark and the dove flying towards it, with an olive branch in its beak. This composition, called "After the Deluge of the Northern War", was the theme of the celebration fireworks in Moscow. On the medal, the young city of St. Petersburg, born in the course of the war, is linked by a rainbow, a symbol of peace, with the ancient Stockholm.

The reverse is occupied by a long and elaborate inscription. Here a panegyric to Peter, who is styled Emperor and Father of the Homeland, and an expression of joy at the attainment of the long-awaited peace, were set out in two languages, Russian and Latin. The celebrations in St. Petersburg and Moscow were attended by numerous representatives of foreign powers, who were granted gold or silver medals of a size appropriate to the rank of each. The inscription also states that the medals were made of "native" metal. Home-produced Siberian gold and silver were a source of great satisfaction to Peter, who paid considerable attention to the search for natural deposits of precious metals.

The Nystadt medal was awarded to a great many participants in the war. Large numbers of engravers worked on the dies of various sizes, the character of the design and the absence of signatures indicating that they were Russian masters. The dies for the big medals were prepared with greater care; many of them were to be sent to foreign courts.

More involved compositions, comprising a variety of allegorical motifs, are used on medals dealing with events of great importance to the state. The coronation of Ekaterina Alexeyevna in 1724 was tantamount to the declaration that she was Peter the Great's successor to the Russian throne. The medal shows Peter as a Roman emperor, crowning a deeply curtseying

Ekaterina. Everyone present at the ceremony received gold medals of varying size, and among the crowds in the street, small tokens bearing the inscription "General joy" were distributed. One variation of the medal bears a monogram which can be deciphered as that of Fiodor Medyntsev, a pupil of Gouin - a rare case of a Russian engraver leaving his signature.

In 1724 the newly founded St. Petersburg Mint started working in the house of the Berg-Collegium in the Liteiny Side; in 1725 it was transferred to new premises in the SS. Peter and Paul fortress. Its rouble pieces issued in 1724 and 1725 carry numerous versions of a new type of portrait of the Emperor, whose features are close to the mask made by Carlo Rastrelli in Peter's lifetime.

A year later, in 1725, the St. Petersburg mint carried out a mourning order, producing medals and tokens on the occasion of Peter's death. The device on the reverse of the medal is extremely intricate and its pictorial language, elaborate and flowery. Eternity bears aloft Peter who is wearing the robes of an emperor of antiquity; the female figure sitting on the seashore surrounded by the attributes of the sciences and arts, with the legend "See in what condition I leave you", personifies Russia, but it can equally well be interpreted as the widowed Empress. Apparently the engraver who made the die was little prepared for the execution of the involved design which he was no doubt commanded to do. Yet despite the faults in execution, the idea is clear enough: a summing up not only of Peter's life but of the path traversed by Russia in little over a quarter of a century.

Medals of the late seventeenth and the first quarter of the eighteenth centuries compose a priceless chronicle of events, created by the hands of the contemporaries. Intended for commemoration of events of major importance, these works of art recorded for posterity the outcome of the bloody wars and internal upheavals undergone by Russia in the course of the period which gave her a place in the world worthy of her greatness. Russian medals, colourful in artistic language and rich in historical content, can be compared to advantage with many works of contemporary European medalling. The principal traits of the Russian medals made in the early decades of the eighteenth century in all the three main classes, the commemorative and personal medals and military rewards, were further developed in the work of succeeding generations of medallists.

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© Alexey S. Zlygostev, 2013-2017
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