Portrait medal of Cecilia Gonzaga (obverse); Innocence and a Unicorn in a Moonlit Landscape (reverse)
Pisanello (Antonio Pisano) (Italian, Pisa or Verona by 1395–1455)
model 1447 (old aftercast)
Bronze (copper alloy with warm brown patina under a worn layer of black wax)
Diam. 8.4 cm, wt. 142.55 g.
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975
Not on view
In the dreamlike nocturnal scene on the medal's reverse, an outsize unicorn lies gently at the feet of a half-clad maiden. Thus Pisanello, one of the great artists of the Renaissance, embraces the medieval legend of the taming of the unicorn to create a poetic metaphor for the life of Cecilia Gonzaga, seen on the obverse. This beautiful princess of Mantua refused to
marry, choosing instead to remain a maiden and serve as a nun of the Order of Saint Clare. The
traditional theological association of the unicorn with Christ, therefore, has particular resonance here. The crescent moon is apparently a reference to the classical virgin goddess Diana.
Inscription: Inscribed on the obverse: CICILIA• VIRGO• FILIA• IOHANNIS•FRANCISCI• PRIMI• MARCHIONIS• MANTVE (Cecilia, virgin daughter of Gianfrescesco, first marquess of Mantua); inscribed on the reverse: OPVS • PISANI• PICTORIS • M•CCCC•XLVII (the work of Pisano the painter, 1447).
J. P. Heseltine, London; Henry Oppenheimer, London, by 1912; Oppenheimer sale, Christie’s, London, 27 July 1936, lot 1 (as “original cast of great beauty; fine patina, pierced”; to [John Hunt, London]). Acquired by Robert Lehman through Hunt from the Oppenheimer sale.