Hidden Treasures in Special Collections: Souvenirs of the Grand Tour

Liberotti, Giovanni. Liberotti Impronte. [Rome: Incisore di Camei Roma], circa 1820.

American University Library Special Collections recently rediscovered a set of miniature plaster medallions in relief by master carver Giovanni Liberotti, depicting famous buildings, paintings, and sculptures covering the classical period through the Renaissance including the works of neoclassicists Antonio Canova, Bertel Thorvaldsen and John Gibson. Works of art such as da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne,” Titian’s “Flora” and the famous Etruscan statue “She-Wolf Nursing Romulus and Remus” and architectural treasures such as St. Peter’s Square, the Parthenon, and the Colosseum are included.

The medallions are mounted in twenty-five double-sided clamshell boxes which open as books. [Octavo, contemporary three-quarter vellum, elaborately gilt-decorated spines, red morocco spine labels, marbled sides and speckled edges.]  The medallions measure between ¾ and 2½ inches across.  On the front and rear pastedowns are numbered keys in contemporary Italian identifying each of the works.   Accompanying the boxes is a handwritten English translation of the keys.  The medallions were sold as travel souvenirs to individuals making the Grand Tour.  It is likely that AU’s founder, Bishop John Fletcher Hurst, acquired the medallions while he was studying in Germany.