This medal is the earliest known example with a Jewish subject and a Hebrew inscription as well as an extraordinary historical document of one of the most prominent Jewish families of the sixteenth century. The Gracia Nasi portrayed here (originally Beatriz Mendes Beneviste [Grácia], 1540-1596) was the young wife of Samuel Nasci (c. 1522-1569?) and niece of the older Gracia Nasi (c. 1510-1569), a woman of extraordinary wealth and a key figure in dramatic events of international importance.
In the early sixteenth century, the family resided in Portugal, one of many new Christian families that had abjured Judaism in order to remain in the country after the edict of expulsion was promulgated in 1496. In 1541, the older Gracia Nasi, known originally as Beatriz de Luna, and her sister- in-law Brianda de Luna began an international odyssey that ended when the sultan of Turkey invited the family to settle in Istanbul. Earlier, from 1546 until 1553, they lived in Venice and then in Ferrara. Samuel Nasci married the younger Gracia (Beatriz), daughter of Brianda, in Ferrara in 1557. Shortly afterward, Samuel and his wife went to the Ottoman Empire.
This uniface medal was created by Pastorino de'Pastorini in 1557-58. At left is the sitter's name in Hebrew characters, and at right is a Latin inscription "A[nno] AE[tas] XVIII" (in the year of her age eighteen). During the Renaissance, medals became a significant art form as men and women sought to emulate the Romans of antiquity. In imitation of antique coins bearing portraits of Roman emperors, Renaissance rulers and church officials, as well as members of the lesser nobility and the bourgeoisie, commissioned idealized likenesses that expressed their virtú (character) and glorified their personalities. Generally, the individual was depicted in a bust portrait that gave an ennobled version of his or her appearance. The surrounding inscription identifies the sitter and may give additional information, as on this example. Since Gracia Nasi, the younger, is known to have been born in 1540, the inscription giving her age as eighteen indicates a date of 1557-58 for the medal.
Pastorino de'Pastorini was a well-known medalist who produced several similar portrait medals. Many of them show the subject surrounded by a beaded border and an inscription like those seen on Gracia Nasi's medal, but no other bears a Hebrew inscription. Since Pastorino never worked outside Italy, this medal must have been commissioned before the sitter left for Istanbul in 1558.


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