Alphonso of Aragon, King of Naples
- Place of origin:
Naples, Italy (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval and Renaissance, room 64, case 14
The renowned Italian artist Pisanello carried out several commemorative portrait medal commissions for Alphonso V of Aragon (b.1396-d.1458) whist he ruled as Alphonso I of Naples from 1443 to 1458. This is the first and largest of these, executed soon after Pisanello's employment in the royal court. The reverse, depicting a majestic eagle perched above a dead fawn and surrounded by smaller birds of prey, celebrates Alphonso's virtues as a ruler. Reinforced by the inscription in Latin, 'Imperial Liberality', it represents him as Liberalitas, alluding to his policy of delegating authority and dispensing benefits in his efforts to consolidate his power in Italy. The eagle, as king of the birds, shared the important status of the lion. According to Pliny the Elder's Natural History, whose classical writings on animal behaviour were still widely believed, it killed to feed both itself and other lesser birds. Two-sided Renaissance portrait medals were a form developed by Pisanello, and commemorated individuals or events and functioned as gifts and mementoes. They were inspired by the Roman coins, with their portraits of rulers and allegorical representations on the reverse, excavated all over Italy and eagerly collected by humanist scholars.
Obverse reads DIVVS. ALPHONSVS. REX. - .TRIVMPHATOR. ET./ .PACIFICVS. (The divine Alfonso, king, victor and peacemaker) and shows a conventional portrait in profile facing right of Alphonso V of Aragon, wearing rugged armour over chain mail. To his left is a crested helmet bearing his emblem of an open book from behind and a sun above. To his right is a floating crown with the date above and bellow it: .M./ .C.C.C.C. – XLVIIII. (1449)
Reverse bears the inscription across the upper centre .LIBERALITAS./ AVGVSTA. (Imperial Liberality). And along the bottom edge: .PISANI.PICTORIS.OPVS. (The work of Pisano the Painter). In a rocky landscape an eagle perches on a dry branch, below which a fawn lies dead with a ragged open wound. Two vultures and another large bird of prey look on to the sides, and a smaller bird looks out to the left beneath the fawn.
The medal has a mid-brown Patina and is pierced above the eagle’s and Alphonso’s head.
Place of Origin
Naples, Italy (made)
Materials and Techniques
Marks and inscriptions
Obverse reads DIVVS. ALPHONSVS. REX. - .TRIVMPHATOR. ET./ .PACIFICVS. The divine Alfonso, king, victor and peacemaker
Reverse bears the inscription across the upper centre: .LIBERALITAS./ AVGVSTA.
Along the bottom edge: .PISANI.PICTORIS.OPVS. Imperial Liberality
The work of Pisano the Painter
Diameter: 11.1 cm, Depth: 1.2 cm, Weight: 0.46 kg
Object history note
The artist Pisanello carried out several commemorative medal commissions of Alphonso V of Aragon (b.1396- d.1458), during his rule as Aphonso I of Naples from 1443 to 1458. This is the largest and earliest of these, executed soon after Pisanello's employment in the royal household in Naples. The reverse celebrates Alphonso's virtues as a ruler. The majestic eagle is perched above his recently killed prey and can been interpreted as representing Alphonso as Liberalitas, alluding to his policy of delegating authority and dispensing benefits in his efforts to consolidate his power in Italy. The eagle, as king of the birds, was on a level of heirarchy with the lion. According to Pliny the Elder's Natural History, whose writings on animal behaviour were still widely believed, it killed to feed both itself and other lesser birds. A 1448 sketch by Pisanello developing the design for the obverse of this medal, and another depicting studies of the birds of prey on the reverse, are owned by the Musée du Lovre, Paris.
Historical significance: This medal is one of the earliest and largest two-sided portrait medals of the Renaissance and was realised in several examples. Portrait commissions such as this were complimentary to both parties, an idea with an attractive classical precedent: according to ancient texts Alexander the Great would allow only the sculptor Lyssipus and the painter Apelles to represent him. Only they were talented enough to create the flattering but realistic likeness he needed to perpetuate his fame, whilst augmenting it by association with their skill.
Historical context note
Usually cast in bronze or lead, the Renaissance portrait medal commemorated individuals or events and functioned as gifts and mementoes. They were inspired by the Roman coins, with their portraits of rulers and allegorical representations on the reverse, excavated all over Italy and eagerly collected by humanists. The large commemorative gold medals of Emperors Constantine and Heraclius, acquired in 1402 by Jean de France, Duc du Berry, were a precedent for the large scale of the earliest Renaissance portrait medals developed by Pisanello. Pisanello's medals had a strong appeal for Italian humanist rulers under the influence of classical learning and values, and provided a durable, portable and sophisticated portrait that could disseminate their reputation. Alphonso had a reputation as a generous and discriminating patron of humanists and artists, and Pisanello came to Naples to work for him in 1448. Pisanello depicted clear forms and ingenious composition within the unusual space of the roundel. His reverses were highly skilled bronze depictions of either an event in the life of the sitter, or a witty or intellectual allegory, or impresa, emphasising their virtues. The imagery used a combination of the prevalent chivalric Gothic imagery adopted by Italian courts in the fourteenth and early fifteenth century, and a new visual culture based on the antique texts of the new classical learning (which was not yet the standardised visual language of the later Renaissance based on antiquities).
Medal, bronze, bust of Alphonso of Aragon, King of Naples, Pisanello, Italy, dated 1449
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1855. In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 74
Pollard, John Graham Renaissance Medals Volume One: Italy, National Gallery of Art, Wahington, 2007, pp 31-34.
Luke Syson and Dillian Gordon Pisanello: Painter to the Renaissance Court
Men; Birds; Armour; Deer; Helmets; Kings; Eagles; Crowns; Monarchs; Profiles (figures); Birds of prey; Vultures; Liberalism; Alphonso (V of Aragon, I of Naples)
Portraits; Royalty; Sculpture; Coins & Medals