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

Leonello d'Este (obverse and reverse)

c. 1441
Cast copper alloy, diameter 7 cm
Private collection

Leonello d'Este (1407-1450) was marquis of Ferrara and Duke of Modena and Reggio Emilia from 1441 to 1450. He was one of the illegitimate sons of Niccolò III d'Este. In 1429 Niccolò obtained a papal sanction for Leonello's legitimisation and named him his heir.

According to contemporary sources, Leonello was an ideal ruler, a perfect prince: wise, gentle, learned, just, pious, and unpretentious. he was a serious intellectual, avid musician, poet, and active patron of the arts. From his sophisticated environment emerged one of the most important innovations of Renaissance art, the portrait medal. Leonello seized upon this new type of imagery with great enthusiasm. In 1441 he brought Pisanello to his court and commissioned from him a series of at least six medals. Each medal bears the prince's portrait on the obverse, paired on the reverse, with an obscure and complicated image rich in symbolism and in allusions to classical art and learning.

On the reverse of the present medal, one of the three earliest medals, two naked men, one young, the other old - the past and the present - facing one another and supporting on their shoulders large baskets filled with olive branches. They stand in a bare landscape that fills the lower part of the field. This is one of Pisanello's most balanced compositions.




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