Gianello delle Torre (1500-1585) is identified by the inscription as being from Cremona, a watchmaker and architect. Best known today as an engineer, his celebrated feat of raising the level of the Tagus River was completed in 1568. One cast of his portrait medal bears the date 1548, which could be a commemorative date rather than the date of execution. The reverse shows a classical female figure as a fountain statue, surrounded by seven men and a boy approaching the fountain of knowledge. One man holds a compass, another a rule, thus linking the figure to the sciences, particularly architecture. The legend Virtus nunq[uam] deficit means 'Virtue never fails', implying the projects built by della Torre will last.
The work has been attributed both to da Trezzo and to Leone Leoni. Hill praises the reverse, while not deciding finally between da Trezzo and Leoni: '... the Fountain of the sciences, with a stately figure supporting an urn from which flow the streams of knowledge, to be eagerly caught by figures bending at her feet - this is a nobly monumental design, than which the academic art of the sixteenth century has produced nothing better'. Scher states 'Stylistic evidence strongly favours [da] Trezzo as the author of the medal: the portrait is forceful, and the details of hair, beard and drapery are delicately modelled without being fussy. The reverse, showing the Fountain of the Sciences, is a masterpiece of relief sculpture with expressive movement, strong modelling, subtle variations in relief and a precise but lively depiction of faces, water, and drapery.' Attwood agrees with the attribution, but differs on the quality of the sculpture: '[Da Trezzo's] hand is particularly apparent in the somewhat lifeless classicism of the reverse. Leoni's figures have a degree of vivacity and sense of movement in their drapery that is wholly lacking in the work of da Trezzo. The grouped figures of the della Torre reverse, with their monumental symmetry and stiff poses, have much in common with those on the reverse of da Trezzo's Mary Tudor medal.'
- George Hill, rev. Graham Pollard, Medals of the Renaissance, London: British Museum 1920, 1978 p.97
- Stephen K. Scher, Grove Dictionary of Art
- Philip Attwood in Stephen K. Scher (ed.), The currency of fame: Portrait medals of the Renaissance, London: Thames and Hudson 1994, p.161
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010