Portrait medal of Isotta degli Atti
- Place of origin:
Rimini, Italy (Made)
1453 to 1455 (Cast)
de' Pasti, Matteo (Designed)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval and Renaissance, room 64, case 14
This early example of a Renaissance portrait medal was commissioned to celebrate Isotta degli Atti. She was the famously beautiful mistress, and eventually third wife, of Sigismondo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini. The elephant depicted on the reverse was a heraldic symbol of the Malatesta, proclaiming fortitude. Here it promotes her link to the family. The year 1446, inscribed in Roman numerals, commemorates not the date of the medal itself, executed several years later, but a significant year in which Sigismondo consolidated his political power and Isotta became his mistress. As a way of ensuring that her fame (and his) endured posthumously, he buried medals of them both in the walls and foundations of the many buildings he commissioned, in self-conscious imitation of the classical tradition of using Roman coins as foundation deposits; as such, many examples of this medal survive. This design by the Veronese medallist Matteo de'Pasti may have been conceived to form a pair with a portrait medal of Sigismondo showing his castle on the reverse, also executed by the same artist.
Matteo de’ Pasti of Verona is first heard of in Venice, where he was working for Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici on illustrations of the Triumphs of Petrarch.
He settled at Rimini in 1446 and married Lisa Baldegara and rose to honour in the court of Sigismondo Malatesta and aqcuired lands in Rimini in 1451. He made numerous medals of Sigismondo Malatesta.
He was the most accomplished among the immediate followers of Pisanello, although how far he was actually associated with him is a matter of conjecture. His versatility was considerable and his reputation ranged from architect, sculptor, painter and illuminator to medallist.
The obverse of the medal depicts a profile portrait of a young woman, Isotta degli Atti, facing right, with curly hair elaborately dressed up high and separating into two sections. It is held by crossing fabric straps topped by a large jewel. The reverse image depicts a naturalistic elephant facing to the right crossing a meadow of small flowers. The medal has a brown patina and is inscribed on both sides and pierced at the top.
Place of Origin
Rimini, Italy (Made)
1453 to 1455 (Cast)
de' Pasti, Matteo (Designed)
Materials and Techniques
Marks and inscriptions
'D[ominae](or D[iva]) ISOTTAE ARMINENSI' 'to the Lady (or Divine) Isotta of Rimini'
Reverse inscribed: MCCCCXLVI 1446
Diameter: 8.3 cm, Depth: 0.2 cm, Weight: 0.24 kg
Object history note
This portrait medal by the Italian artist Matteo de'Pasti was commissioned to celebrate Isotta degli Atti (1432? to 1474). She was the daughter of a merchant and court official and became famous as the mistress, and eventually third wife, of Sigismondo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini. The year 1446, inscribed in Roman numerals on the reverse, does not reflect the date of the medal, which was commissioned years later, but is thought to be a commemorative date marking the year the young Isotta and Sigismondo met and she became his mistress, and also the year he consolidated his political power. They eventually married after the death of his second wife, probably in 1456. The elephant on the reverse was an Impressa of the Malatesta family, proclaiming fortitude, and used here promotes Isotta's link to the family. As a Renaissance symbol, it also carried positive associations of piety and chastity.
Historical significance: This is one of the most famous of the medals designed by the Veronese artist Matteo de’Pasti (c. 1420- c. 1467) for the Malatesta family. He was an important person at the Rimini court of Sigismondo Malatesta, entrusted with the responsibility for all artistic and architectural work within the state. His position meant he came into contact with other artists working at the Rimini court, notably Piero della Francesca, Agostino di Duccio and Leon Battista Alberti. Matteo was also influenced in his Medal design by Pisanello, who had himself designed medals for the Malatesta, and there is evidence he was a pupil of Pisanello. The simplicity and modelling of his medals strongly reflect Pisanello’s work, as seen in the controlled naturalism and simple composition of this example. The elegant modelling of the elephant is remarkably naturalistic, even depicting the ribs nudgeing through the draping skin, suggesting Matteo had access to source material based on first hand observations of the animal.
Numerous medals from Matteo de’Pasti’s series of Malatesta medals were deposited in the walls and foundations of the many buildings commissioned by Sigismondo, in self-conscious imitation of the classical tradition of placing Roman coins as foundation deposits, a further attempt to perpetuate his fame, and that of his beloved mistress Isotta, after their deaths.
Historical context note
Isotta was renowned for her beauty, as evident in court poetry or the time, and here her golden hair, a standard of female beauty in Renaissance Italy, is exposed and celebrated as a dominant feature. A slightly earlier, more crowded, version of this medal is more overt, inscribed on the reverse with the legend 'The work of Matteo de'Pasti of Verona' and showing Isotta in a veiled headdress and with the longer inscription in Latin: 'to Isotta of Rimini, the ornament of Italy for beauty and virtue'. Matteo may have conceived the Isotta/elephant design to form a pair alongside his medal of Sigismondo showing his castle at Rimini on the reverse (see A.173-1910).
Medal, bronze, Isotta degli Atti, wife of Sigismondo Malatesta, by Matteo de' Pasti, Italy (Verona), 1446
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
P .G. Pasini Matteo de' Pasti: Problems of Style and Chronology, Stud. Hist. A., xxi (1984), pp.92-119.
Scher, Stephen K Currency of Fame: Portrait Medals of the Renaissance [New York: H.N. Abrams in association with the Frick Collection, 1994], pp.64-76.
Hill, G.F. A corpus of Italian medals of the Renaissance before Cellini [London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1930]
Pollard, John Graham Renaissance Medals Volume One: Italy, National Gallery of Art, Wahington, 2007, pp 47-51 (other versions)
'Salting Bequest (A. 70 to A. 1029-1910) / Murray Bequest (A. 1030 to A. 1096-1910)'. In: List of Works of Art Acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum (Department of Architecture and Sculpture). London: Printed under the Authority of his Majesty's Stationery Office, by Eyre and Spottiswoode, Limited, East Harding Street, EC, p. 19
Elephant; Hair ornaments; Atti, Isotta Degli; Rimini
Portraits; Sculpture; Coins & Medals