Historical and Commemorative Medals
Collection of Benjamin Weiss



Unknown artist: Germany, 1544, Bronze (cast), 44 mm
Head of Pope (l) coupled with head of Devil (r) MALII. CORVI. MALVM. OVVM. (Bad Egg from a Bad Crow)
Rev: Head of Cardinal (l) coupled with head of Jester (r) ET. STVLTI. ALIQANDO. SAPITE. (And Fools, at Some Point Learn to Be Wise) MDXLIIII. (1544)
Ref: Barnard, 33/131, Plate III, 6;  Weiss BW783;  Not in Fieweger Collection but see #157 for type; see Vannel-Toderi, 1998 p130 for German Protestant Anti-Pope Satirical Medals

It is generally accepted that the Protestant Reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in which he protested many practices of the Catholic Church, in particular the sale of indulgences. The movement spread throughout Europe, most notably by Ulrich Zwingli (in Switzerland) and John Calvin (initially in France, later in Switzerland), but also by several other Protestant reformers. It encompassed most of Europe, gaining its strongest adherents in Northern Europe: Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, England, Scotland, The Netherlands. The movement was largely concluded in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, which ended one hundred thirty-one years of consequent European religious wars. This European Christian reform movement established Protestantism as a constituent branch of contemporary Christianity.

The medal shown here is one of several issued during this period to support the Protestant movement by ridiculing the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. This satirical medal, when rotated at 180 degrees changes the pope, now portraying him as the devil; the figure of the cardinal, on the reverse, when rotated is converted into a jester or fool.

The Latin inscription on the obverse can be translated in various ways, but generally suggests that if the parent (Pope) is evil, the children (his followers) are evil also.  The phrase is derived from an ancient Greek anecdote from the fifth century BCE.  Please note also that the Latin ‘MALII’ appears to be a mistake; the genitive singular should be 'MALI'. (Many thanks to Dr. Ralph Rosen for this information.)

The reverse inscription ET STVLTI ALIQ(V)ANDO SAPITE is taken from the Bible (Psalms, XCIV. 8), thereby using Scriptures to give the medal’s insulting message added weight.

Another interpretation of the inscription of the reverse of this medal was provided by Cartier.  As the enmity of Rome was more bitter against Calvinism that against any other form of Protestantism, Cartier suggests that this "reverse legend referred to the Protestant fools displaying temporary wisdom in evicting Calvin".  My own feeling is that this interpretation is incorrect.  Why would the medallist make the Pope appear as the Devil on the obverse but criticize the Protestants on the reverse? (BW)

Barnard notes that the first medals depicting the pope and cardinal were positive images issued during the Reformation by the Roman Catholics in which the rotated images showed another view of each figure in different garb.  Later the Protestants of Germany, Holland and Switzerland issued similar satirical medals, but now scurrilous, as the rotated images depicted the Pope as a Devil and the Cardinal as a Fool.  Barnard goes on to note: "Many of these medals have been pierced, or provided with loops, for suspension, to facilitate wearing by enthusiasts of either party.  Human nature, too, being what it is, we may conjecture that it was sometimes found useful to carry about a pair of rival badges.  Displayed by Catholics in a Protestant district, or vice versa, they would probably save the wearer much trouble".

Again Barnard, quoting Klotz,  states that the Pope-Devil and Cardinal-Fool types of medals date from between 1537 and 1547 and may have been designed by Luther's friend Nikolaus von Amsdorf.

LINK to similar, though not identical, medal at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

LINK to drawing of Pope/Devil Cardinal/Fool (metalonmetalblog)

LINK to article on Medallic History of Religious and Racial Intolerance (by Benjamin Weiss)