Toward the end of 2012, the phone rang at the Vatican Numismatic Collection. Giancarlo Alteri, then Director, answered it and was pleasantly surprised to hear that the widow and son of medallist Erminio Varisco had decided to entrust his estate to the Vatican Numismatic Collection. This was a logical decision, as the artist made a lot of medals on behalf of the Vatican. His papal portraits adorn the obverse of innumerable medals, such as those sold in the souvenir and devotional memorabilia shops around St. Peter’s Basilica, which are taken away by pilgrims as memento of their time in Rome and end up scattered in countless countries around the world.
The Numismatic Collection can therefore use a range of pieces to document the works of Erminio Varisco. The donation not only includes the cast bronze models of the designs, but also a collection of completed pieces, as well as some medals of Mr. Varisco’s colleagues that he kept for his own collection.
In 2018, Eleonora Giampiccolo, who replaced Giancarlo Alteri as curator of the Vatican Numismatic Collection in June 2013, published a comprehensive catalog documenting these wonderful donated pieces and categorizing them in an artistic context. She begins with a brief overview of art medals in the post-war period, in which she presents a small selection of the major Italian artists who were working at the same time as Erminio Varisco. This is followed by an extensive, richly illustrated biography of the artist. Parts of this are based on his autobiography, which was never published.
Next, a selection of the donated pieces is presented. 509 pieces were handed over to the Numismatic Cabinet, including numerous one- and two-sided casts, coined medals – made by Variso himself and other artists as well as a chalk drawing.
The casts that are clearly Varisco’s work were published in full. Of a part of the donated medals it’s no longer known which artist is responsible for them. For that reason, only 85 pieces, which Varisco definitely made, were selected from these medals. In an appendix, the author presents 24 medals that were owned by Variscos but clearly made by other artists.
This catalog, written by Eleonora Giampiccolo, is a valuable contribution to contemporary medal art, which gives us a real insight into the work of an important and successful 20th-century medallist. What’s really shocking is how quickly the knowledge connected with this artist’s work has faded. Erminio Varisco died on March 29, 2005, and we’re already relying, for the most part, on stylistic observations to figure out which medals he made.
This should give us pause for thought. From an academic point of view, gathering information on an artist during their lifetime may not be as exciting as researching a long-dead artist, but it’s certainly effective!
You can order the book via Amazon.
You can find out more about the Vatican Numismatic Collection on this page in English!
There’s not much information available online about Erminio Varisco, but you can find a selection of his medals on this page.