The subject of the medal, Faustina the Roman, has been identified as 'a courtesan celebrated by Joachim du Bellay, who was in Rome from 1553 to 1558, and possibly identical with the Faustina who excited the passion of Brantôme.' The legend may be completed as Favstina ro(mana) o(mnium) p(ulcherrima), or the Roman Faustina, of every beauty. Her portrait bust is in the classical antique style: left profile, drapery, hairstyle and jewellery - earrings, necklace and hair fillet.
The reverse depicts the Greek myth of Leda and the swan. Leda is the wife of the king of Sparta, who is seduced (or raped) by Zeus in the guise of a swan; from their union is born Helen of Troy. The Roman name for Zeus was Jupiter or Jove. The legend si Iovi.quid homini implies if Jove does this, what of men? The theme was a common one for Renaissance artists. Abondio takes advantage of the tondo format by accentuating the curve of the swan's wings, and repeats the rhythmical bend of the swan's neck in Leda's limbs.
- A. Blanchet, 'Une Faustine à Rome au milieu du XVIe siècle' in Arethuse, fasc. 7 (1925) pp.41-49, quoted in Hill and Pollard p.89. Du Bellay, 1522-1560, the French poet, was in Rome at this time serving his cousin Cardinal du Bellay; the Seigneur de Brantôme (Pierre de Bourdeille) 1540?-1614 was a French courtier, soldier and memoirist.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010