September 2016 Object

Satirical medal, Germany, circa 1543. © MIR, Geneva

This unusual silver medal, minted in Germany around 1543, belongs to the permanent collection of the MIR. The obverse shows the pope wearing the papal tiara. When turned 180 degrees, however he is revealed as the devil. On the reverse is a cardinal with a wide-brimmed hat. When similarly rotated, he becomes a buffoon with a fool’s cap and bells.

The pope and cardinal are ridiculed by association with the devil and a buffoon, respectively. The inscriptions, in Latin, further underscore the satirical nature of the medal. They read: "The perverse Church has the face of the devil" and "Fools are sometimes wise".

Satirical medals, especially those featuring double heads, were used as tools of propaganda and were widely circulated in the context of the 16th-century wars of religion. Indeed, several variations on this theme are known, many of which have survived to the present.

        Samantha Reichenbach