The Portland Vase, £5.00
Diameter: 103.000 mm
George III Collection
CM George III, Naples 9
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Cast bronze medal of John VIII Palaeologus, Emperor of Byzantium, by Pisanello
Ferrara, Italy, about AD 1438-42
The first Renaissance medal?
According to art historical tradition, this is 'the first true portrait medal of the Renaissance'. However this belief reflects more the desire of art historians to identify precise moments in the 'progress' of the visual arts, than the actual documented history of medals.
We do, however, know the very precise circumstances of the medal's manufacture: the visit of the emperor John VIII Palaeologus (1392-1448) to Ferrara in October 1438 at the invitation of Pope Eugenius IV, for the Council intended to unite the Greek and Latin churches. Plague in the city forced the council's removal to Florence in February 1439 and thus the piece's inception, if not its actual execution, can be precisely dated. Pisanello's presence in the city is documented by the eye-witness drawings he made of the emperor and his entourage. The fact that the subject is an emperor depicted has been often stressed. The idea for the medal's production was likely to have come from the court of the Este (the ruling family of Ferrara) but it is generally thought that it was inspired by two medals of the Roman emperors Constantine and Heraclius, of early fifteenth-century French workmanship, then thought to have been antique.
S.K. Scher (ed.), The currency of fame: portra-3, exh. cat. (New York, 1994)
R. Weiss, Pisanellos medallion of the Em (London, 1966)
L. Syson, 'OPUS PISANI PICTORIS: les médailles de Pisanello et son atelier' in Pisanello: Louvres conférences (Paris, 1998), pp. 377-426
G.F. Hill, A corpus of Italian medals of (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1930)
J.G. Pollard, Medaglie italiane del Rinascim (Florence, Museo nazionale del Bargello, 1984)