Enlarge 1 / 2
  1. 66251_a.jpg 1/2
  2. 66251.jpg 2/2


Italy 1538 – Austria 1591

Portrait of Faustina Romana (obverse)
Leda and the swan (reverse)
1550s Materials & Technique: sculptures, metalwork, bronze

Primary Insc: not signed, not dated; title obverse relief "FAUSTINA RO.O.P.", reverse relief "SI IOVI.QVID HOMINI"
Dimensions: diameter 4.9 diameter
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1987
Accession No: NGA 87.352
  • Trustees of the British Rail Pension Fund;
  • sold at auction, Sotheby's London, 1986;
  • Alain Moatti, Paris;
  • from whom bought by the Australian National Gallery, December 1986

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.

Christine Dixon

  1. 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

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.469a, p.89, illus. b&w (another impression)

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra