Four gold ducats of the Sforza dukes of Milan


British Museum

British Museum

Realistic, characterized portraiture on coin designs was the clearest sign of the shift from medieval to modern coinage. New, larger silver coins helped this, but it had already begun in the 1450s on traditional ducat-sized gold coins. The impetus came from enthusiasm for classical antiquity (particularly the example of coins from ancient Rome) and the skill of Renaissance artists.The phenomenon first arose in Italy in the duchy of Milan, where the pretensions of the Milanese princes was a further catalyst. Francesco Sforza's ducats were the first portrait coins of Italy, as well as being an important regional coinage in the north. They first appeared in 1462. The portrait was copied from a painting of Sforza by the artist Bonefacio Bembo. Realistic portraits stressed the personality and achievements of the individual portrayed, and Francesco Sforza's rule in Milan was mainly due to his ability as a military leader. Because his state was important both politically and economically, the ducats of Milan helped to spread the idea of coins as a medium for portraiture well beyond the boundaries of the duchy, although it was resisted in those states where republican government remained in force, such as Venice, Genoa and Florence.The tradition of portraiture that was established by Francesco was continued by his elder son Galeaozzo Sforza (ruled 1468-76), his grandson Gian Galeazzo Sforza (ruled 1476-94) and his younger son Ludovico Sforza (ruled 1494-1501), who displaced the young Gian Galeazzo after acting as regent for him.

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  • Title: Four gold ducats of the Sforza dukes of Milan
  • Date Created: 1450/1466
  • Physical Dimensions: Weight: 3.400g
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Registration number: 1849,1121.562
  • Production place: Minted in Milan
  • Material: gold
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Authority: Ruler Francesco I Sforza
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Murray, Charles Augustus. Previous owner/ex-collection Isma'il Pasha