A Handheld History marks the first time since 1976 that the Bowdoin College Museum of Art’s prestigious Molinari Medals Collection has been the subject of a dedicated exhibition. Organized by Bowdoin students Amber Orosco ’19, Stephen Pastoriza ’19, and Benjamin Wu ’18, this installation allows viewers to experience the intimacy and poignancy of portrait medals spanning nearly five centuries and to consider the lessons they have to impart to contemporary audiences.

Donated to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art over fifty years ago, the collection reflects the generosity of Cesare and Amanda Molinari, who also provided an exceptional library to support study of these works. Highlights of these related bibliographic materials are included, reflecting the evolution of numismatics scholarship from the sixteenth century up to the present day.

The show unfolds around three central themes: Portraiture and the Representation of Identity, Political Ideologies and Propaganda, and Collecting a Handheld History, which show the development of the medal as an artistic, social, and political statement. Related prints and paintings demonstrate the remarkable power of these objects to convey erudition, intellectual achievement, personal virtue, and political power. In short, this selection from Bowdoin’s Molinari Collection makes clear the power of a handheld history from the early fifteenth century to the present: a compact, durable, and compelling representation of the long sway of cultural authority and leadership.

Major support for this exhibition has been provided by an anonymous donor. Additional support was received from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Becker Fund for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, and by a matching gift from the Lunder Foundation for conservation work at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center.