73 mm (2-7/8”), 170 grams
HISTORY: The Society of Medalists (SOM) commissioned Pietro Montana for the design of their 55th medal issue. Montana chose a religious theme to convey love and compassion. Pietro Montana (1890‒1978) was born in Sicily and emigrated with his family to the United States in 1904. They settled in Brooklyn, New York, where a young Pietro apprenticed in a photography studio for many years. In his late teens and early twenties, Montana attended classes at the School of Art, Cooper Union, graduating in 1915.
In 1919, Montana erupted on the art-world scene by winning a war memorial design competition for his “Fighting Doughboy” sculpture, a tribute to the returning soldiers of World War I. He continued his illustrious career as a sculptor, painter, and teacher, creating war memorials, religious and public works, miniatures, and medallions (SOM and Franklin Mint). Montana was also artist-in-residence at Fordham University (Bronx, New York) between 1947 and 1952.
OBVERSE: Francesco d’Assisi (1182‒1226), an Italian Catholic friar, canonized in 1228 by Pope Gregory IX (1145‒1241) as Saint Francis of Assisi, stands in prayer. Two fellow friars—one standing and the other kneeling by his side—grieve over a forlorn soul in their pathway. Around the rim are the words “BLESSED ARE THEY WHO HUNGER AND THIRST AFTER HOLINESS,” a reference to Jesus’ sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:6. In the exergue, beneath the friar’s feet, is the signature “© PIETRO MONTANA,” below which is the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a symbol of God’s enduring love for humankind (see Detail 1).
REVERSE: A leper, kneeling naked with a blanket thrown over his shoulders, receives a healing blessing from St. Francis. The surrounding words, “WHERE THERE IS DESPAIR, LET ME BRING HOPE” (also known as the “Peace Prayer” or “Prayer of St. Francis”) was never actually written by St. Francis. A poem, published in 1912 for the French spiritual magazine, La Clochette, included the line, “Là où il y a le désespoir, que je mette l'espérance.”
On this SOM medal design, Montana embellished the prayer with an olive branch at the beginning; a gryphon, or griffin (symbol of divine power), in the center; and a haloed dove (symbol of the Holy Spirit) at the end. Montana signs his monogram “PM,” inside a circle, at the bottom.
EDGE: Smooth, the top edge is engraved, “SOCIETY OF MEDALISTS 55TH ISSUE - MAY 1957 - PIETRO MONTANA. SC,” while the bottom edge is engraved, “MEDALLAC ART CO. N.Y. BRONZE.” A hand-inked catalogue number follows: “1974.01.0055.”