Italy 1430 – 1514
Portrait of Lodovico Luti of Siena (obverse)
Fortune with sail on a dolphin, watched by ermine (reverse) c.1498 Place made: Italy
Materials & Technique: sculptures, metalwork, bronze
PLEASE NOTE: this work is on long term loan at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne more information
According to Hill, Lodovico Luti 'is presumably the man, an enemy of Pandolfo Petrucci, who was murdered in Florence on 26 June 1498'. Petrucci was the brutal tyrant who ruled Siena between 1487 and 1512. Niccolò's medal identifies Luti 'of Siena'; from his clothing he may have been a merchant. It is not possible to tell if this is a posthumous portrait, although given Luti's fate the motto on the reverse seems particularly pertinent - prius mori qua turpari, or 'rather death than dishonour'.
Niccolò's work has been characterised as follows:
Whatever the size of the medal, the portrait is distinctive and confident, dominating the circular field, although in most cases the lettering is not as elegant. Each head is strongly individualized and modelled in fairly high relief. The economical style includes the essential contours and features, while conveying a feeling for the plasticity of flesh and the bone structure that brings the subjects to life, despite their presentation in strict and impersonal profile. Few other Renaissance medallists were able to produce so evocative a series of portraits, but this was, perhaps, to be expected in the environment of Quattrocento Florence. By contrast, the reverses of Niccolò's medals are mostly either clumsy, derivative, repetitive or inappropriate. At best, they exhibit a rough charm ...
Like several other medallists of the time, Niccolò did not always pay much attention to the appropriateness of the reverse theme. In this instance, Fortune, the goddess of antiquity, is associated with the chances of the sea and mariners' lives. She is shown here on a dolphin, with a billowing sail to remind the viewer of the inconstancy of fate. An ermine watches from the shore. Prius mori qua turpari may have been a family motto, and the ermine a family emblem. It may possibly refer to Luti's occupation as a furrier or fur-trader, and thus dependent on fickle Fortune.
This reverse was used for at least two other medals Niccolò, one of Alessandro Vecchietti 1498, whose family arms include five ermines, and the other of Nicolas Tranquier 1503. Hill judged the Luti medal reverse as 'probably the original'; this seems possible given a likely latest dating of 1498.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra