Exhibition | The Emperor’s Gold

Posted in exhibitions by Caitlin Smits on May 29, 2016

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From the Kunsthistorisches Museum:

The Emperor’s Gold / Das Gold des Kaisers
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien, 24 May 2016 — 5 March 2017

The great fame that the imperial coin collection already enjoyed throughout Europe around 1800 derived from its size and quality as well as from the rarity of the objects it contained. It was the collecting passion of the Emperors Charles VI (reigned 1711–1740) and Francis I (reigned 1745–1765), which already fascinated contemporaries, and to which the Vienna Coin Cabinet owes its world-class status today. On the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Vienna Coin Cabinet presents a special exhibition of the highest-carat gold pieces from its once-imperial coin collection.

From Antiquity to the Modern Period
The gamut ranges from gold coins in everyday circulation through multiples, true gold giants, and singular commemorative issues. Many of the imprints on display were honorific gifts to the emperor or were targeted acquisitions for the imperial collection. Antique treasure hordes also played an important role in the expansion and enrichment of the imperial coin collection. The spectacular find at Szilágysomlyó in Transylvania, for instance, contained the heaviest gold medals from antiquity ever discovered.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold
The so-called ‘splendid’ medals (Prunkmedaillen) represent a highlight of the exhibition. These were produced in only a few exemplars and presented as precious gifts to important personages. Due to their enormous sizes, they offer images with a richness of detail that is otherwise unknown. Today their exclusive value lies not only in their precious metal content and artistic quality, but also in their singular provenance.

The Birthplace of Numismatics
In addition to its purely representative function, the Vienna Coin Cabinet was also the birthplace of numismatics as a modern scholarly discipline during the eighteenth century. The custodians of the imperial coin collection penned the first printed coin catalogues. They were concerned with the organization of antique and modern coins, and developed systems that still remain relevant.

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