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Italy 1375 /1415 – 1435 /1475

Portrait of Niccolò Piccinino, condottiere (obverse)
She-griffin of Perugia suckling children (reverse)
c.1440-41 Place made: Italy
Materials & Technique: sculptures, metalwork, bronze

Dimensions: 8.8 diameter
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1986
Accession No: NGA 86.1809
  • collection Prince Chigi, Rome (inventory 1674);
  • Alain Moatti, Paris;
  • from whom bought by the Australian National Gallery, March 1986

PLEASE NOTE: this work is on long term loan at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne more information

Niccolò Piccinino (1380-1444/5) was a condottiere, or mercenary captain, who sold his services, and those of his followers, to any side. The Latin inscription 'vicecomes' means Viscount in English, or Visconti in Italian, the family name of the Dukes of Milan. The work can thus be dated to the limits of 1439 to 1442 since Piccinino took this name from his adoption by the Duke of Milan in 1439 until his adoption by the King of Naples in 1441 or 1442.

Piccinino's prowess as a soldier is asserted by the words 'marchio capitaneus max[imus] ac Mars alter', which may be translated as 'great ?? captain and another Mars', the god of war. On the medal he is shown wearing a tall cap and plate-armour, on the shoulder of which is an armourer's mark, a crowned AA, probably Milanese. The drawing for this portrait is in the Recueil Vallardi (cat. 2482), held in the Louvre.

The reverse bears the motif of the she-griffin of Perugia suckling two boys, an obvious reference to the legend of the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, being suckled by the she-wolf. The ancient Romans defeated the Etruscans in Perugia and called the city Augusta Perusia. Piccinino is one child, the other is named as Braccius, or Braccio da Montone, Piccinino's teacher in the art of war. Pisanello signs the medal 'Pisani p[ictoris] opus', the work of the painter Pisano.

Medals, as well as being cheap and very durable - they were cast from the non-precious metals bronze or lead - were extremely portable. Sometimes a hole was pierced so that they could be displayed in a cabinet. In the sixteenth century it was used for a cord or chain so that the medal could be worn around the neck like jewellery.

Christine Dixon

  1. details from Hill p.8, and Hill & Pollard p.8

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

G.F. Hill, Pisanello, London: Duckworth & Co. 1905, pp.127-128, pls.33, 34; George Francis Hill, A Corpus of Italian Medals of the Renaissance before Cellini, London: British Museum 1930 cat. 22, p.8, illus. b&w;

G.F. Hill and Graham Pollard, Renaissance Medals from the Samuel H. Kress Collection at the National Gallery of Art, London: Phaidon n.d. cat. 4, p.8, illus. b&w

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra