ROMANO, Gian Cristoforo
(b. ca. 1465, Roma, d. 1512, Loreto)
Portrait Medal of Isabella d'Este1495-98
Gold with diamonds and enamel, diameter 7 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Medals such as this one were commissioned by Renaissance rulers and others to be given as tokens of honour and respect. Isabella presented bronze versions of this medal to poets, and the text on the back reads "For Those Who Serve Her."
Isabella d'Este (1474-1539) came to Mantua from Ferrara in 1490 as the wife of Marquis Francesco Gonzaga, a war captain who loved art but was even fonder of arms, dogs, and horses. She entered the city via five triumphal arches, in a wagon decorated by Ercole de' Roberti, one of the best Ferrarese painters of the day. She settled into Castello di San Giorgio, where she had a private apartment only a few yards from the Camera degli Sposi. Her quarters contained the studiolo, a little studio, that would become one of her greatest sources of pride.
Isabella's features on the obverse of the medal are close to the famous portrait drawing of her by Leonardo da Vinci, but she wears a simpler, close-fitting, square-necked dress that reflects the fashion of the late 1490s. The elegantly swirling hairstyle is distinctive and may have been inspired by hair arrangements on Roman coins.
On the reverse, a winged figure in classical dress holds a palm branch in her left hand and a short staff or wand in her right, and a serpent rises up in front of her. In the field above, a representation of Sagittarius may refer to Isabella's horoscope.