A Century of Giving
Niccoló Fiorentino, style of
Medal: Giovanna degli Albizzi, wife of Lonenzo Tornabuoni
diameter 7.3 cm, weight 145.5 gms
The Fitzwilliam Museum: CM.131-1978
The medal's inscription declares this to be Giovanna, wife of Lorenzo Tornabuoni. It was probably made to commemorate her marriage in 1486: a union of two of the oldest and most powerful Florentine families.
Giovanna is depicted in profile, her hair worn in thick tresses with heavy pearls and a pendant jewel around her long columnar neck. Her idealised beauty was based on theoretical principles and on examples from Greek and Roman antiquity. Before her death in childbirth, at the age of 20, both Botticelli and Ghirlandaio had immortalised her in paintings commissioned by the Tornabuoni family.
The fashion for circulating people's likenesses through medals spread rapidly in 15th century Italy. Made of non-precious metal, like bronze or lead, and cast from wax or wooden moulds, Renaissance portrait medals had no monetary value. They were small enough to hold in the hand, and were also displayed in the home.
The reverse was often intended to convey the 'essence' of the person. It might record an historical event, or one related to the subject's life or career. This medal features three interlaced female figures, with Giovanna herself in the centre. They represent Chastity, Beauty and Love - a compliment to the sitter's virtues.
The Tornabuoni medal, acquired in 1978, had been long sought by Graham Pollard (1929-2007), the Fitzwilliam's first Keeper of Coins & Medals. A world authority on Italian Renaissance medals, Pollard started work here as an attendant: his career in the Museum lasted 41 years!
To commemorate Pollard's retirement in 1988 the Friends gave a particularly rare bronze medal - a portrait of the architect Alberti (c.1453), ascribed to Alberti himself.