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|Authors: ||De Lucia, M.*|
Ricciardi, G. P.*
|Title: ||120 ANNI DI STORIA DELL’ITALIA E DEL VESUVIO NELLA COLLEZIONE DI MEDAGLIE DI LAVA VESUVIANA DELL’OSSERVATORIO VESUVIANO|
|Issue Date: ||23-Sep-2011|
|Abstract: ||Lava medals constitute a unique example that links Vesuvian eruptions to history,
politics and science. Medals coined in the Vesuvius lava date back to the period in
which the state of the volcano was characterized by an open conduit, so that warm
lava was still used. This state of activity lasted from 1631 to 1944, a period of time
during which effusive or effusive-explosive eruptions frequently occurred, followed by
very short periods of rest. The medals were realized through metal molds or punches
pinching a small amount of a still molten lava, extracted from lava flows or from the
lava lake in the crater, and then dipping it into cold water. This unique industry
expanded when volcanic eruptions with significant lava emissions occurred, for the
increased availability of material. Furthermore, in periods of intense volcanic activity
there was an increasing number of curious and visitors who bought lava medals.
Especially for scientific purposes, in the early Nineteenth century collectors and
scientists began to gather these unique objects, which were considered as geological
specimens, as the medals coined in 1819 and 1820 by Nicola Filomarino Duca della
Torre, amateur volcanologist. However, he started an intense production of this
objects, contributing to make them quite popular at the time. Over time, lava medals
were specifically made by craftsman and used as souvenirs; then, in the first half of
the Twentieth century, they assumed a commemorative and in some cases
propagandistic value. In addition to medals, Vesuvian guides used to make lava
objects putting a coin, a medal, a stone or a button in a piece of lava.
The Osservatorio Vesuviano has a unique collection of lava medals coined in Vesuvian
lava. It consists of 78 items, dated from 1819 to 1939. Most of them belong to the
period between 1920 and 1939, with a peak between 1933 and 1936.
Subjects were extremely varied: emperors, popes, kings, generals, scientists,
celebrities, souvenir subjects such as Vesuvius and Italy, mythological, religious and
During the Thirties, the purpose for which the medals were made was mostly the
celebration of significant events in the history of Italy, as the birth of a king's son, the
proclamation of the empire, military conquests and victories and sometimes, the
exaltation of dictators like Benito Mussolini or Adolf Hitler. On the back of these
medallions the names of the “artists” who had created them were sometimes
engraved, such as Giovanni Preti and Salvatore Madonna.
Thirty-eight lava medals of the Osservatorio Vesuviano collection had belonged to
Alessandro Malladra, who made a donation of his geological specimens to the
institute where he worked for many years. In fact, he was Director at the
Osservatorio Vesuviano from 1927 to 1935.
He came from Turin and was a teacher of natural sciences, well-known because he
followed the construction of the Sempione tunnel as consultant geologist of the
company. The encounter in Milan in 1910 with Giuseppe Mercalli was crucial for the
progress of his career and changed his life. In 1911 Malladra left his homeland and
followed Mercalli, becoming his assistant at the Osservatorio Vesuviano, where he
studied the Vesuvius with the same passion he had for the Alps.
Meticulous and precise, Malladra systematically collected geological samples and
minerals produced by Vesuvius, making them available to other scholars. He kept an
extensive correspondence with scientists from all over the world and was secretary
of several prestigious scientific academies.
He can be regarded as an example of that kind of scientists who have contributed
greatly to the geological knowledge of the Italian territory and the dissemination of
this knowledge among non-experts.|
|Appears in Collections:||Conference materials|
05.03.99. General or miscellaneous
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