An Aftercast of the First Portrait Medal of the Italian Renaissance
Byzantine. John VIII Palaeologus.
1425-1448. Bronzed Cast Lead Medal (102mm, 472.80 g, 12h). Original by A. di Puccio Pisano (called Pisanello). A much later aftercast. + ἸωÁNNHC · BACIΛЄὺC · KAῚ · ἈVTO KRÁTωP · ῬωMÁIωN · Ὁ · ΠAΛAIOΛOΓOC (John Palaeologus, king and autocrat of the Romans
), bust right, wearing wide-brimmed hat with tall crown / OPVS · PISANI · PICTO/RIS ·, John on horseback right on rocky terrain; page on horseback to left, wayside cross to right; on banner in exergue, ἔPΓON · TȎV · ΠICÁNOV ZωΓPÁΦOV (the work of Pisano the painter
). Cf. Pollard (1985) 2 (for prototype); cf. Pollard (2007) 1 (same); cf. Hill 19 (same); cf. Scher 4 (same). Near EF, dark brown surfaces, a few scattered marks. A decorative later casting of this popular renaissance medal.
A famous rendition of enigmatic character, the Palaeologus medal by Pisanello has attracted great interest since its inception. Having come to Italy in order to strengthen the unity between the Byzantine eastern church and the Roman western church under Pope Eugenius IV, John VIII attended an ecumenical council at Ferrara from 1438-1439. While there, he and his entourage attracted a great deal of interest from local artists given their exotic and outlandish appearance. During the emperor’s stay in Ferrara, Antonio Pisano (known as Pisanello) produced a series of drawings of the former which served as the basis for his eventual medal. The specific origins of the medal, such as location and purpose of its manufacture, are still unknown, but its role in medallic art of the Italian Renaissance is significant, as it serves as the first portrait medal of that period, and has attracted many later aftercasts such the medal above.