Laura Cretara: Art in a Coin

Laura Cretara has put a lot of heart into her works of art over more than fifty years in the business.

laura cretara disegna alla medaglia dell'expo coniata dalla picchiani e barlacchi

“I believe a true presence can be created in a work of art, if one’s hands pass through one’s thoughts, knowledge, the mind… but also through one’s emotions, and therefore the heart.” (Laura Cretara)

And Laura Cretara has put a lot of heart into her works of art over more than fifty years in the business. In fact, it was 1961 when she was first employed by the State as an engraver, kicking up a stir given that this profession was considered a strictly male one at the time. Achieving recognition in this sector was therefore anything but easy, and the fact that she managed to do so demonstrates her will power, extraordinary talent and determination in travelling a road that she had dreamed of since she was a child. Her father Francesco was in fact a painter and engraver, as well as her first teacher. In an interview, Cretara recounts how her artistic calling was therefore a natural consequence, and how at five years of age she had already begun to design and engrave, giving life to her very first exhibition. As a teenager she chose to attend an artistic Lyceum, before enrolling in the Academy of Fine Arts and subsequently completing her education at the School of Medal Art, where Guttuso was among her teachers. It was at this point that, after passing her exam, she began to work as an engraver, bringing out the best of her extraordinary talent and leading her to obtain her first prestigious award as early as 1970: she beat all the other engravers and was selected to design the reverse side of the thousand lira coin. This would be a special coinage to celebrate the capital of Rome, and similarly a special result that would lead her to become the first woman to have designed a coin in numismatic history. From that moment on, she was assigned a myriad of works: Cretara became the artistic manager at the Mint, and from 1976 to 2004, she directed the School of Medal Art that she herself had frequented some years earlier. Thanks to her, numerous works of art were produced, including the equestrian statue of Marco Aurelio, which has been on show in Piazza del Campidoglio since April 1997.

retro moneta da un euro

Another of Laura Cretara’s passions, in addition to engraving, is sculpture. And it was using this artistic form that in 1985, the international year of Peace, she created a silver artwork currently housed inside the United Nations building in New York. Her many creations for Italy include a bronze sculpture dedicated to Saint Francis, on show in a public park in the Eur di Roma district, the city where she was born in 1939.

Even the following decade represented a golden era and one to remember for Cretara. 1993 was in fact the year the one hundred lira coin went into circulation, and she subsequently made her contribution to the famous bi-metal five hundred lira coin, which we’ve all used at least once, and which is housed at the Modern Art Museum in New York. In 1999, her five thousand lira coin dedicated to communication was declared the most beautiful in the world. She also lays claim to the commemorative medal for the 150th anniversary of Italian Unity, and a reverse side that we touch and see every day: the Vitruvian man portrayed on the one Euro coin, selected at first sight and without any doubt or indecision by the then Treasury Minister, Ciampi, from among many other candidates.

At this point, one naturally asks the question, what is Laura Cretara’s secret inspiring her to create medals and coins of such esteemed value and beauty. The answer was provided by Cretara herself during her speech at a presentation of her most recent project, of absolute international prestige:

“I’ve always thought that designing a coin and putting my name to it was a great privilege because that coin, in addition to its day-to-day function, passing from one pocket to another, with the passing of time, over the years, the centuries, the millenniums, will be the testimony of history, the testimony of an era. Therefore, it is a privilege.”

consegna moneta da un euro a ciampi

(cit. Laura Cretara)

Understanding time, identifying the positive values that help the community remain united on one hand, and on the other seeking the right allegory, the right metaphor that tells their story in the space of a coin: this is the cornerstone of the task, this is what sets apart an engraver that produces works of art preserved in public and private collections in Italy and abroad!

The knowledge that she is giving a gift to both today’s generations and those to come, a precious gift carrying a special message, is therefore what makes this lady a symbol of excellence for this ancient art form.

And Cretara continues to be at the centre of this art thanks to her last – in order of time – design carrying her name, characterised by the joined initials “LC”: the reverse side of the official Expo Milan 2015 celebratory series. The tree of life is in fact the work of Cretara, which she imagined as a plant nourished by the planet Earth, with five branches, each with five different leaves all the same size. Each leaf represents a continent: Maple for North and South America, Photos for Asia, Agrimony for Africa, Eucalyptus for Australia and Oak for Europe. The message is clear, universal and one of hope for the future: peace, harmony, equality and union within diversity, and respect for the environment and our planet, which we are over-using.

The artwork is completely in line with the theme of Expo Milan 2015 – “Feeding the planet. Energy for life” – and has given Florence a claim to fame: the first city to coin the official coin for this worldwide event. Picchiani & Barlacchi was afforded the honour, commissioned by the Museo del Tempo, of producing the first specimen and therefore continuing the long-running collaboration with Cretara, first begun in the 1980s with the three editions of the Art Medal Biennial, in which it participated as a special juror. From that moment on, the mutual esteem and trust between the two has continued to grow, giving life to a long-lasting relationship of which the company is very proud.

Article by: Romina Mattoni