The Portland Vase, £5.00
Diameter: 84.500 mm
George III Collection
CM George III, Various Princes 8
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Cast bronze medal of Isotta degli Atti by Matteo de' Pasti
Rimini, Italy, after AD 1446
The chaste mistress of Renaissance Rimini
The legend around the veiled portrait translates as: 'To Isotta of Rimini, the ornament of Italy for beauty and virtue'. The medal is a tribute to Isotta degli Atti, 'mistress' of Sigismondo Malatesta, lord of Rimini (and can therefore hardly be described as conventionally virtuous, though it must have been required that she remained faithful to her lord and master). It was her posthumous reputation that concerned Sigismondo, who must have commissioned this piece. Matteo's medal bears the date of 1446, which does not refer to its date of execution, rather commemorating the year when Isotta became Sigismondo's mistress. The date also appears, surprisingly, on her tomb in the church of S Francesco, more commonly known as the Tempio Malatestiano, in Rimini. Examples of the medal were buried in the walls and foundations of the many buildings constructed by Sigismondo, to be discovered by future generations. This medal, like her tomb, was therefore intended to preserve Isotta's fame.
The elephant on the reverse of the medal provides a connection with ancient coins, specifically of the famous empress Faustina the Elder, wife of Antoninus Pius. On the reverse of a coin of Faustina is a chariot drawn by elephants and the legend AETERNITAS ('eternity'). The elephant was used by the Malatesta family as a symbol of Fortitude, and was also understood as standing for Chastity. By its association with the Faustina coin, this elephant on the reverse of Isotta's medal also trumpets her eternal fame.
A.Luchs, The currency of fame: portrait (New York, 1994)
L. Syson, 'Consorts, mistresses and exemplary women: the female medallic portrait in fifteenth-century Italy' in The sculpted object 1400-1700 (Aldershot, 1997)
G.F. Hill, A corpus of Italian medals of (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1930)