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

Leonello d'Este (obverse and reverse)

c. 1444
Cast copper alloy, diameter 10 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.

The present medal was produced to commemorate Leonello's second marriage in 1444 to Maria of Aragon, the illegitimate daughter of Alfonso the magnanimous (1396-1458), king of Naples and Sicily. The obverse displays a bust-length portrait with Leonello wearing the rich garments reminiscent of those shown in his painted portrait by Pisanello. The lettering is elegant and pure, the portrait bust dignified and majestic.

It is on the reverse where the artist presented a delightful commemoration of the event for which the medal was ordered. In the foreground a lion (Leonello), his tail between the legs, is confronted by Amor (Love), who holds a scroll of music, teaching the king of beast to sing and thereby taming him.

This medal is one of the great masterpieces of medallic art.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.