Leonello d'Este, marquess of Ferrara (1441-1450), was one of the most cultivated princes of his time. Like his peers he was fascinated with the Roman coins that were found everywhere in Italy, and he may have been the first prince to commission a type of portrait that was similarly durable, portable, and sophisticated -- the medal. Though larger and more impressive-looking than coins, medals also consist of a profile portrait with an inscription identifying the sitter on one side (the obverse), and an emblem or symbolic composition with a Latin commentary on the reverse. Pisanello, often considered the greatest maker of medals, was the first artist to produce them, probably at Leonello's court in Ferrara. Medals were cast in gold, silver, bronze, or lead, depending on the importance of the recipient. They were never intended as currency, but were used as gifts to mark favor or to celebrate an event. This medal commemorates Leonello's second marriage in 1444 to Maria of Aragon, illegitimate daughter of the powerful king of Naples. On the reverse a tame lion, a pun on Leonello's name, learns the music of love from a delicate and vulnerable cupid. On the pilaster just above the lion is Leonello's personal emblem, a mast with a sail, while the falcon on a branch at the left is a reference to Maria's father, Alfonso of Aragon.
Leonello d'Este, Marquess of Ferrara
DIMENSIONS: diameter 10.3 cm (4 1/16 in.)
COLLECTION: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Samuel H. Kress Collection
ACCESSION NUMBER: 1957.14.602.a