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Department of Decorative Arts: Renaissance
Cecilia Gonzaga (1426-51)
© 1995 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet
A medal is a metal disc bearing a portrait in low relief on one side and, on the other side, an element relating to the person depicted. Here, the portrait is that of Cecilia Gonzaga, daughter of Gianfrancesco I di Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua. On the reverse side is a unicorn, symbolizing purity and chastity, and the name of the artist and the date.
What is a medal?
A medal is a commemorative object, in the shape of a coin, with the face of the individual or event to be commemorated on one side and an emblem, device, or allegorical scene on the other. The word medal, which derives from the Latin "metallum", shows that it is related to ancient coinage. Like coins, medals are round, have two sides, are cast or struck in metal, carry inscriptions, and are produced in series.
A gifted pupil, with her brothers, of Vittorino da Feltre, Cecilia Gonzaga refused the marriage arranged by her parents in order to take up the religious life. Receiving permission from her father in his will, she entered the Clarissan convent at Mantua in 1445 and died there in the odor of sanctity. This medal, although dated 1447, shows her in secular attire, wearing a wide-sleeved dress and with her hair in a bun. The allegorical scene on the reverse alludes to the qualities possessed by the young woman, since only a virtuous virgin may tame a unicorn; thus Innoncence and Chastity are represented by the two figures. The unicorn has the body of a long-haired goat, this animal being the symbol of knowledge, a reference to the learning of the princess. After her death she was given the title Beata Chiara.
Pisanello was active in the princely courts of Verona, Ferrara, Mantua, Milan, Rimini, and Naples. As well as frescoes and portraits, we also possess a considerable number of drawings by him. In the field of medals he is the most important artist in the first half of the fifteenth century.
Antonio di Puccio Pisano, known as PISANELLO (Pisa, c. 1395 - ?, 1455)
Cecilia Gonzaga (1426-51)
Diam. 8.40 cm
Baron Charles Davillier bequest, 1883 , 1883
Reverse: a young girl and a unicorn
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