A superb marriage casket
The front finely engraved with a cartouche containing the personification of Love, flanked on both sides by family…
Simon de Passe was born in Cologne and worked as an engraver in Utrecht, Netherlands. He spent some time in Copenhagen working for Anne of Denmark’s brother Christian IV, King of Denmark-Norway (ruled 1588-1648). In England he received orders from James I to produce a series of portrait medallions in silver, perhaps as gifts for favoured courtiers. One at least is dated 1616 and the series was completed by 1619.
The present gold medal is made by Simon de Passe, who was the elder son of Crispijn [van] de Passe (1564 Arnemuiden – Utrecht 1637). Undoubtedly Simon was an apprentice of his father. At the time of Simon’s birth his father Crispijn had a print shop in Cologne, operated by his wife, from where he published his own prints. The family moved to Utrecht in 1612. Around 1615 Simon travelled to England where he worked for Nicolas Hilliard (1547 Exeter – London 1619), the famous court miniaturist, medallist and portraitist, from whom Simon received the licence to engrave the latter’s portraits in print. Passe stayed in England for approximately 10 years before moving to Copenhagen, where he would work in the service of the Danish King Christian IV until his decease in 1647.
In England Simon de Passe worked on a series of engraved portrait medals, representing members of the royal family. His work, which would later be often imitated, is of the highest quality and of an astonishing craftmanship. For his engraved portraits Passe based his representations on examples by Nicholas Hilliard, Isaac Oliver and prints by other artists. In England he received orders from James I to produce a series of portrait medallions in silver, perhaps as gifts for favoured courtiers. One at least is dated 1616 and the series was completed by 1619.
The medal representing Mary of Austria does not belong to the aforementioned series of royal portraits, but was created in the same period. Passe worked in London when an attempt was made to arrange a marriage between the Catholic Infanta Maria (1606 Escorial – Linz 1646), daughter of King Philip III of Spain (ruled 1598-1621), and Prince Charles (Dunfermline 1600 – 1649 Whitehall, London), son of King James I of England (ruled 1603-1625). The King’s daughter Elizabeth (1596-1662) had married the Protestant Elector Palatine of the Rhine, Frederick V (1596 Deinschwang – Mainz 1632), in 1613. Already in 1614 Infante Maria was considered to be a suitable match. After four years of fruitless negotiations, the deliberations were cancelled, because the Spanish terms proved unacceptable. In 1618 James I broke off the negotiations. Although the discussions were resumed in 1622, when the future King travelled to Spain with George Villiers, Ist Duke of Buckingham, the scheme came to nothing. There was widespread rejoicing amongst the English, nervous of an alliance with a powerful Roman Catholic country. This rare medallion belongs to the earlier phase of the negotiations, before 1621, when Phillip III, father of the Infanta, died. A print of Maria, which was made by Simon de Passe and published in 1622 by his father Crispijn, has as edge lettering referring to the sitter as the sister of the Spanish king Philip IV: SERENIS: MARIA / PHILIPPI IIII. HISPANIARUM / INDIAR. ETC.REGIS SOROR.
Of the portrait medals by Passe mostly one of each portrait is made in gold, and there are several cast in silver. Of the present example only one other example in silver is known, which is kept in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (inv. n° 963-1904). It was customary that there were several copies of the portrait tokens extant. Presumably such pieces were very prescious gifts from the King to dignitaries and high court officials.
It is known that the Amsterdam silversmith Johannes Lutma had stipulated with the city council that he, after delivering the gold medals made to commemorate the Westphalian Piece Treaty (1648), would keep the right to manufacture other casts in silver, to sell through his own firm. In fact, this was the most lucrative part of his work as a designer and silversmith of this famous medal.
It is quite possible that Passe had made a comparable arrangement. From various of his engraved medals silver casts are known. These are of such high quality that discussions amongst numismatic experts about Passe’s technique and artistic ability have taken place for over a century. All Passe’s medals seem to have been engraved piece by piece. But because of some medals several copies of the same subject were so identical, is has been suggested that either Passe engaged very talented engravers in his studio, who were able to copy exactly or that he had developed a very special technique to cast the medals in such a way that it seems that they are engraved. In 1983 the debate that had gone on since the 19th century, was smothered by Mark Jones. He proved by microscopic comparison of various medals in the collections of the British Museum and the Royal Collection that engraved medals and cast copies are extant. From the Infanta Maria of Austria only two engraved copies are known: the present medal and the one in the Victoria & Albert Museum. The engraved gold portrait medals are very rare. Queen Elizabeth II did not have a Passe medal in her collections, only silver examples. In 1982, on the occasion of a state visit by the Sultan of Oman, she received a gold medal by Passe representing the portrait of her forbearer and namesake, Elizabeth I.
With S.J. Phillips, London, shown during Tefaf, Maastricht, March 2001;
Private collection, The Netherlands
Tefaf Maastricht, catalogue 2001, p. 300-301, ill.
Mark Jones, The technique of Simon van de Passe reconsidered, The Numismatic Chronicle, Vol. 143, 1983, pp. 227-230
Jeremy Cheek, Monarchy, Money & Medals, coins, banknotes and medals from the collection of Her Majesty the Queen, Spink & Son, London, 2018, pp. 44-48
Simon de Passe (Cologne circa 1595 - 1647 Copenhagen), London, circa 1616 - 1620
56 x 44 mm.