The commission for Clement X’s medallion, a cast of which is preserved at the NCMA, likely originated with the Pope Clement X’s right-hand man, Cardinal Camillo Massimo (1620–77).
As high chamberlain Massimo oversaw all of Clement’s official artistic projects. Massimo himself was one of the most important art patrons and collectors of the 17th century, and the pope thought so highly of his connoisseurship and antiquarian knowledge that he appointed him superintendent of the decoration of the Altieri Palace.
Cardinal Massimo’s enormous collection included paintings, antique sculpture, medallions, coins, medals, and cameos, so it is not surprising that he also owned a bronze medallion with a portrait of the Altieri pope. A postmortem inventory of his palace at the Quattro Fontane, Rome, redacted on October 11, 1677, lists “a portrait of the holy memory of Clement X in bronze.” This bronze work was the only portrait in one of two audience halls on the principal story of the palace.
Massimo’s collection was largely dispersed within two years of his death. In 1679 the cardinal’s younger brother Fabio Camillo III (1621–86) sold the palace at the Quattro Fontane and its unsold paintings, antiquities, and furnishings to Cardinal Francesco Nerli and moved the family into an adjacent house. The bronze portrait, however, seems to have remained with the Massimo family at least until Fabio’s death in 1686, when it was recorded as part of his estate. A 1686 inventory of the house at the Quattro Fontane lists “a small tondo of metal representing the holy memory of Clement X with a little tondo frame of black pear wood.” Fabio’s house passed by inheritance to his daughter, Giulia Massimo (d. 1711)—Cardinal Massimo’s last heir—who immediately sold it to Cardinal Nerli. No one has traced Massimo’s Clement X relief beyond this point, but it is quite possibly the medallion now in Raleigh—framed in an exquisite 17th-century carved and gilded tondo said by the previous owner to be original to the work .
The surviving evidence of the Clement X medallion—one gilded, at least three bronze, one inscribed bronze, and one terracotta—suggests that it was produced as a series for a small group of recipients. Perhaps the gilded version was made for Clement himself, while the others were manufactured for the pontiff’s close advisors, including Cardinal Massimo. Clement X’s papal predecessor and friend Giulio Rospigliosi (pope Clement IX, 1667–69) spawned a similar series of portrait medallions including two gilt-bronze roundels (Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, and Cambridge, Mass., Fogg Museum). Similar to our Clement X example, the latter has been resurrected from storage and placed on view in the new galleries of the Fogg Museum that opened in November 2014.