Obverse Bust to left, a portrait of Fabio Chigi, Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667), wearing cap, mozzetta and stole with floral decoration, separated from inscription by a rim. Around, ALEXANDER . VII . P . M . PIVS . IVST . OPT . SENEN . PATR . GENTE . CHISIVS . MDCLIX. Reverse The Lion recognising Androclus in the Arena. Around, MVNIFICO . PRINCIPI . DOMINICVS . IACOBATIVS; below, on a scroll, ET . FERA . MEMOR . BENEFICII.
This remarkable large cast medal was commissioned by the papal agent Domenico Jacobacci, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and executed in 1659 by the papal medallist Gioacchino Francesco Travani. On the obverse is a portrait bust of Pope Alexander VII and depicted on the reverse is the legend of Androclus and the Lion at the moment the lion suddenly cowers and spares the life of a condemned slave who once pulled a thorn from its foot. The cowering lion symbolizes Rome’s thankful remembrance of the pope’s munificence and courageous leadership during the plague of 1656-1657; an inscription on a scroll proclaims “The beast, too, remembers the kindness”. In its size, scale, and compositional complexity, the Androclus medal aspires to the grander status of the plaquette or the small relief sculpture. It stands out in the sequence of papal medals and because of its perspectival illusionism and pictorial effect is promoted as “the first baroque medal” and “the finest and most ambitious example of Italian medallic art of the seventeenth century” (Timothy Clifford). The evidence of Bernini’s authorship of this medal includes an entry in Cardinal Flavio Chigi’s inventory for the lost original drawing and two prints commemorating the casting (one print employs the phrase “numisma opus Bernini”).