While Alberti's impact on the art world was recognized in his own lifetime, he chose to memorialise his own image before he reached the full heights of his fame. This might account for this relatively modest (in size) medallion that measures just a little over seven by five inches. It stands, nevertheless, as an important "first" in the Italian master's impressive oeuvre.
Alberti's oval relief acknowledges the legacy of classical culture in its close resemblance to a cameo. Impressively detailed, however, historian Anthony Grafton describes how the piece "shows its maker with all the energy of early middle age, with a powerful profile and strongly marked, determined eyes and mouth". He is, Grafton continues, "Classically dressed [and] clearly makes a claim to high social and intellectual status". Most historians have been drawn to presence of the Alberti emblem that takes the form of a winged eye (that accompanies "L. BAP": his first initial and the first three letters of his second name). Ancient Egyptian civilization fascinated many humanists and, as the Washington National Gallery of Art observes, Alberti's emblem was probably intended to "refer to the all-seeing eye of God, to the primacy of the eye for human inquiry, and even to Egyptian hieroglyphics".
While Alberti was remembered for many things, perhaps most notably his writings and his building designs, this piece offers abundant proof of Alberti's skill as an artist and his admiration for the ages of antiquity. In describing the impact of this piece, for instance, Grafton states, "it is, in many ways, a remarkable artistic achievement: the first free-standing self-portrait by a Renaissance artist, the first to clothe the artist as a Roman, and an image far more individual than many portraits by the advanced artists of the time". It also provided a model for future medallions and, as Grafton adds, "clearly anticipated, and may have served as a source for, the portrait medals of princes and scholars that two professional artists he knew well, Pisanello and Matteo de'Pasti, would produce in the 1440s and 1450s".
Bronze - Collection of National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.