Etruscan mythology, £8.99
Diameter: 92.500 mm
George III Collection
CM George III, Illustrious Persons 1
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Cast bronze medal of Leon Battista Alberti by Matteo de'Pasti
Rimini, Italy, about AD 1450-5
The first art theorist of Renaissance Italy
Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72) was one of the leading humanist scholars of his day. He earned his living serving various masters as a diplomat, while also a theoretician of painting, sculpture and architecture, codifying art practice and ideas in a series of treatises, and a practising architect. His greatest buildings were constructed in Mantua and Rimini, where he remodelled the church of S Francesco, more commonly known as the Tempio Malatestiano. Assisting him on this project was the miniaturist and medallist Matteo de'Pasti (about 1420-67).
Alberti claimed that portraits have the capability of making absent friends present and it was perhaps in this context that he had this medal cast. He may have provided a self-portrait drawing for the front. He certainly provided the design for the reverse, which shows his device, the hieroglyph of the winged eye. This, he explained, represented divinity, 'seeing all things and distinguishing each separate one', the inspiration of the scholar and artist to aim for excellence, to be all-embracing in the pursuit of knowledge.
K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)
F. Haskell, History and Its Images: Art an (Yale University Press, 1993)
G.F. Hill, A corpus of Italian medals of (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1930)
L. Syson, 'Alberti e la ritrattistica' in Leon Battista Alberti, exh. cat. Palazzo Te, Mantua (Milan, 1994), p. 46-53