Medals were often used to mark and even celebrate the death of an individual or death in general. The famous Pazzi Conspiracy medal by Bertoldo (no. 26) depicts the attempted assassination and assassination, respectively, of Lorenzo de’ Medici and his brother Giuliano during mass in the cathedral of Florence. Part portrait and part narrative depiction, the compositions display Bertoldo’s inventive approach to medals. Centuries later in the Netherlands, a number of medals recorded the violent public execution of the De Witt brothers. One example (no. 90) shows the gruesome scene of their bodies at the base of a torture device on the reverse.
The locket containing the portrait medal of a man known only by his surname (no. 60) was probably worn close to the heart. “Ready-made” medals commemorating death (see nos. 81, 83) could be purchased and personalized with inscriptions. At the top of the medal commemorating the deaths of two young children (no. 83) sits a child blowing bubbles that are destined to burst—a memento mori image similar to skulls, hourglasses, and skeletons.
Inset with coins and Jan de Vos’s vanitas medal (no. 77), the Münzbecher (coin-cup) presents on its exterior the medal’s obverse bust of a young woman. On the inside, visible once the drinker lifts the cup to his lips, the woman becomes a skeleton (the medal’s reverse). Its inscriptions admonish the viewer not to fear death but to seize opportunities to live life before death comes.