Pisanello – The First Medallist ?Posted: January 25, 2015
Pisanello, an early renaissance artist is attributed to being one of the first famous or named medallists. He is also known for his delicate and detailed frescos and portraits and drawings, few of these works survive. He is the most important commemorative portrait medallist in the first half of the 15th century, and can claim to have originated this important genre.
A while into his career as an artist, at around 1435, he became interested in portraiture and medal-making. One of his surviving famous portraits from this time is the Portrait of a Princess of the House of Este.
In 1439, the Council of Florence negotiated with the Byzantine Emperor John VIII Palaiologos. On this occasion Pisanello struck a commemorative medal of the emperor, the earliest portrait medal of post-classical times. He also made some drawings with portraits of the emperor and his retinue (Louvre and Chicago), suggesting he had a commission for a painting or fresco for the Este residence.
Pisanello thus became the inventor of the fields of portrait medals and related medallic art. During his lifetime Pisanello was best known for his medals. He has been copied many times in later generations. The medalist art declined when it deviated from the art of Pisanello. Before him, the few medals made were struck like minted coins. Pisanello, on the other hand, melted his medals the same as a bronze low-relief, clearly showing the work of a painter and a modeler. He even signed his medals with Opus Pisani pictoris (made by the painter Pisano). In his view the portraits in his medals equal the portraits in his paintings. He even adds allegories at the reverse of his medals, such as the unicorn in the Cecilia Gonzaga medal, underlying the noble character of the princess.
Taken from my journal research notes and Wikipedia.