(b. 1395, Pisa, d. 1455, Roma)

Vittorino da Feltre

c. 1446
Cast copper alloy, diameter 7 cm
Private collection

Vittorino da Feltre (1378-1446), was an Italian humanist and teacher, born Feltre, north of Venice. He studied at Padua and later taught there, but after a few years he was invited by the marquess of Mantua to educate his children. At Mantua, Vittorino set up a school at which he taught the marquess's children and the children of other prominent families, together with many poor children, treating them all on an equal footing. He not only taught the humanistic subjects, but placed special emphasis on religious and physical education. Many of his methods were novel, particularly in the close contacts between teacher and pupil and in the adaptation of the teaching to the ability and needs of the child. He was one of the first modern educators to develop during the Renaissance. Many of 15th-century Italy's greatest scholars, including Guarino da Verona, Bracciolini Poggio, and Francesco Filelfo sent their sons to study under Vittorino da Feltre.

Pisanello depicted Vittorino with the gentle affection his subject inspired: the famous teacher is shown with a lean, grizzled face, an intense gaze, a faintly bemused smile, an undecorated robe, and a plain hat. On the reverse, the artist characterised his subject with an image rich in implications: a representation in the tradition of medieval Christian symbolism of the Pelican in Her Piety. According to legend, the bird feeds its young by opening its breast and allowing the chicks to drink its blood. The pelican is a symbol of the Passion of Christ.

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