From the Archives: The Janus Medal

Left: William M. Kendall, Janus seal design, 1912? (AAR Records, Microfilm Reel 5775, Archives of American Art, Washington, DC); right: Roy Lichtenstein, original design of medallic art, 1994 (Institutional Archives, American Academy in Rome, New York)

This January, we celebrate the Roman god Janus, who lends his name to both the month and the Janiculum Hill that the Academy calls home. The two-faced deity is associated with thresholds, beginnings, and transitions—an apt mascot for the American Academy in Rome, which for many represents a symbolic threshold between America and Europe, and between past and future.

The Janus head, accompanied by the Latin inscription “Academia Americana Romae Sita; MDCCCXCIV,” was formally adopted as the Academy seal on February 11, 1913. The original Janus design was submitted by Academy trustee William M. Kendall of the architecture firm McKim, Mead & White. A 1904 research document—belonging to Kendall but signed by Donald Corley, also of McKim, Mead & White—provides insight into Kendall’s inspiration. A similar design is featured over the main gate to the Academy campus.

Of the inspiration for the Janus logo, Kendall wrote, “I find upon looking up the significance of the Janus myth, that he stood for the beginnings of things, for the introduction of culture into Rome, and also, according to Servius symbolized the union of two people under one Government. This seemed almost too appropriate to pass by without seeing what could be done with the double-sided Janus as the symbol for our seal.”

In the nearly 111 years since its formal adoption as seal, the Janus head has become a beloved Academy symbol, inspiring artists and scholars alike. While Kendall’s basic design persists, the motif has been revisited several times, including Roy Lichtenstein’s interpretation of the Centennial Medal.

Donald Corley Letter

Digital scan of a typed letter with handwritten annotations


Digital scan of a typed letter with handwritten annotations


March 25, 1902

Diana, Jana or Iana


Medals or Coins:

(I) H. Goltzi Numismata Tome IV Tabula XXIII Thessalonica. Avery Lib. AMi G58

A double bearded face with laurel crown.

Text: “Ab una parte Ianus bifrons; sed quid sibi Deus ille cum Thessalonica incertus sum; nifi forte, quod Plutarchus monet in Quaestionibus Romanis, Ianum Graecum esse, atque ex Perrhaebia in Italian venisse; illa autem Thessaliae pars erat…. ab anersa parte Centauri lascimentes, in memoriam forte victoriae, quam Phillipus contra Thessalos obtinuit…

(2) From a Roman as (derived from aes) Reverse: the impression of a ship’s prow, as Janus was husband of Sea-goddess Venilia. In very late times Janus is represented with a bearded and an unbearded face, and fingers of his right hand exhibit the number 300 (CCC); those of the left 65 (LXV): the days of the year.

The first demonstrable example of a coin is from the age of the decemvirs (c. 450 B.C.) The unit of coinage was the as, of cast copper, the Roman pound.

(3) Numismatic Society Museum 156 St. N.Y.C.

Two Romano-Campanian coine (290–240 B.C.)

A photograph of this type of Janus coin (Plate VI, No. IO) page 20, of “Historical Roman Coins”, by G. F. Hill, M.A. of the British Museum. (Library of George N. Olcott, Columbia Univ.) This coin, of silver, was issued at the Capuan mint, and the issue is known as quadrigati. The gold coin of this issue (No. 11 of Plate VI)

Note by Mr. Hill: “The lack of a beard on this double head is not sufficient reason for assuming it to represent some deity other than Janus.” (Page 25)

(See plaster cast) from coins at Numis. Soc.

Page 612 Vol. H–K Dict. des Antiquites, Columbia Reading Room.

A medal showing standing figure, one face welcoming the new year, the other dismissing the old; Bearded and Unbearded. Commodus. Money of Thessalonica: the two faces are unbearded.

Trans. “Janus passes for one of the most ancient divinities of Rome. His cult was introduced in the city by Romulus; his name figures in the chants ritual of the Salient… Janus was always popular among the Romans … Janus, of a young visage and not bearded[,] has certainly suffered influence from the analogous Greek type, the double Hermes…”

Cohen, “Monnaie de la Republique romain” Pl. XIX, XLVI (Columbia)

“Le type de beaucoup le plus frequent, le seul meme, a notre avis … c’est le visage d’un homme age, barbu, couronne ou non de laurier.”

Janus was a particular god of Italy. One does not discover him in Greece, nor in the Orient, nor in any other religion of Antiquity. Dict. des Antiq.

“There are also innumerable Etruscan coins, many belonging to the ancient Volterrae, and found in the neighborhood. They are all of copper, cast, not struck; some are dupondii, or double ases, 3" in diam., with a beardless Janus-head, wearing a petasus (hat), on the obverse, and a dolphin, with the word “Velathri” (Volterra) in large letters around it, on the reverse. The smaller coins, from the as down to the uncia, differ from these in having a club, or a crescent, in place of the dolphin. The Janus-head is still on the arms of Volterra. The dolphin marks the maritime power of the city in ancient times. This Janus-head was put on coins, says Athenaeus, because Janus was the first to coin money in bronze, on which account many cities of Greece, Italy and Sicily assumed his head as their device. But Servius gives a much more reasonable explanation: that it symbolized the union of two people under one government. The ship’s prow refers to the argonauts.

A street in Rome, contiguous to the Forum, where bankers lived was called by the name Janus summus ab imo.

Donald Corley.

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