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Matteo de' Pasti

Italian, c. 1420 - 1467/1468

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Matteo de' Pasti was active from 1441 and died in sometime between May 1467 and early 1468.[1] He was a member of a substantial family of Verona, where his father was a physician. A grandmother of Matteo was a member of the Bardi family of Florence. One of his brothers married a Marcanova of Venice, and another became a canon in Verona, of whom Matteo made a medal.

The artist is first recorded as working as an illuminator in 1441 in Venice, on a commission from Piero de' Medici to illustrate the "Triumphs" of Petrarch. In 1446 he was working on a similar commission at Verona for Leonello d'Este, who had employed him since 1444. The artist moved to Rimini, where he is documented from 1449 and where he designed and supervised the reconstruction and decoration for the funarary chapels in the church of San Francesco, commissioned by Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta. With the arrival of Alberti in Rimini, Sigismondo determined to undertake an extensive rebuilding of the church. Matteo became a supervisor of the works and is credited with the sculptural program in the church, largely executed by Agostino di Duccio and his studio. Matteo married Lisa Baldegara of Rimini in 1449, or earlier and sold his property in Verona. He became an important member of the court circle in Rimini and a close companion of Sigismondo, being described as "il compagno del detto signore, nobile e aulico" (the companion of the said signore, noble and courtly).[2] Matteo obtained lands in Rimini in 1451.

In addition to his work in medals, Matteo is known to have been a miniature painter. He played an important role in the transformation of the church of San Francesco into the Tempio Maltestiano in Rimini. The only surviving works that can be attributed to Matteo are the medals and the lettering of the inscriptions on the Tempio Maltestiano.[3] Matteo signed portrait medals of seven people, principally of his patron, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, and his mistress, Isotta degli Atti. A group of eighteen unsigned variants of these pieces also may be the products of Matteo's studio.

In 1461 the sultan of Turkey, Mehmed II, asked Sigismondo to lend to him Matteo de' Pasti so that he might paint a portrait and make a medal of the sultan. Matteo left Rimini for Turkey in 1461, bringing with him an important letter of introduction from Sigismondo and a manuscript copy of the De re militari by Roberto Valturio, an important and practical monograph on the art of war, not published until 1472. Matteo was intercepted by Venetian authorities, probably because his mission appeared to be a threat to Venice, and he was sent back to Rimini in January 1462.[4] In 1464 Matteo is recorded as visiting Cesena, then ruled by Sigismondo's brother, Domenico Novello.

Matteo adopted Pisanello's concept of the medal as an art work, but medals by the two artists, which share similar scale of relief, proportions in design, and composition, have one fundamental difference between them. Pisanello's medals were designed by a painter who adapted graphic conventions to medallic form, while Matteo was a sculptor who utilized sculptural conventions and adapted them with superb skill to the new art form. For example, Matteo's portrait of Guarino (NGA 1957.14.647), his reverse of the Malatesta elephant (NGA 1957.14.651 and 1957.14.655), and his portrait of Sigismondo Malatesta (NGA 1957.14.652), in its bold simplicity, have qualities foreign to Pisanello. Matteo's lettering was influenced by the revival of classical letter forms, as in the reverse of the medal of Christ (NGA 1957.14.649), while Pisanello's lettering shows the influence of the conventions of manuscripts. Most of Matteo's medals depict the patron and his consort, lending the medals a more courtly and "official" character than those of Pisanello, whose services could be bought and who moved frequently throughout his career from one court to another.

Matteo had to protect his reputation as an artist when Sigismondo commissioned quantities of foundation medals for the buildings on which he was working. The medals were copied, but without the artist's name. An extraordinary range of medals by or after Matteo have been found as foundation deposits in those buildings.[5] Many of these foundation medals reproduce pieces signed by Matteo, but with the artist's signature removed from the model before casting. This suggests the medalist's careful exercise of control over the issuance of his work.[6] These extensive finds, from an archeological context, are the basis for the revised chronology of the medals evidence in the dating of the NGA medals by this artist.[7]

[1] Hill 1930, 37-38; Ulrich Middeldorf, "On the Dilettante Sculptor," Apollo 107 (1978), 310-322, reprinted in Collected Writings, 3 vols., Florence, 1981: 3:173-202; Pier Giorgio Pasini, "Matteo de' Pasti: Problems of Style and Chronology," Studies in the History of Art 21, Italian Medals (1987): 143-159. Pasini suggests a revised chronology for Matteo's medals, partly based on the evidence of the excavated specimens, and on an attempt to assess the impact on Matteo of the artists and sculptors at the Malatesta court. The revised dating has been followed in the dating of the NGA medals.

[2] As quoted in Hill 1930, Corpus, 37.

[3] The medals are Hill, Corpus (1930), nos. 158-189. Middeldorf (see note 1), 194 note 121, discusses the lettering of the inscriptions on the Tempio Maltestiano.

[4] Julian Raby, "Pride and Prejudice: Mehmed the Conqueror and the Italian Portrait Medals," Studies in the History of Art, 21, Italian Medals (1987): 175-176.

[5] Pier Giorgio Pasini, "Note su Matteo de' Pasti e la Medaglistica Maltestiana," La Medaglia d'Arte. Atti del Primo Convegno Internazionale di Studio, Udine, 10-12 Ottobre 1970, Udine, 1973: 41-75.

[6] Medals made at court in the fifteenth century in Italy appear to have been produced in small quantities. The principal evidence is a comment by Leonello d'Este to Pier Candido Decembrio, in sending a specimen of the medal by Pisanello to Decembrio, that it had taken Pisanello one year to produce the medals and that only two examples were available, one for the sitter and one for the patron, Leonello himself (Hill 1905, 178). The medals by Matteo excavated from Malatesta buildings are of mostly poor quality, their character as reproductions reinforced by the removal of the artist's signature. The medals commissioned for the immediate use of the patron were of more careful quality. Middeldorf (cited at note 1), 194 and note 121, wondered if some of the medals of SIgismondo Pandolfo Malatesta doubtfully attributed to Matteo might have been produced earlier in the sixteenth century, as part of a revival of interest in him.

[7] Pasini suggests that the earliest medal in the series of Sigismondo is that with reverse of an arm holding a birch rod (Hill 1930, no. 182), issued in 1447. The dates of 1446 to 1450 on the medals are purely commemorative, since the issuance of portrait medals of Sigismondo continued until 1453-1454.

[This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue of Renaissance medals.]

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