chapter  2
In the Ending Is the Beginning: Sannazaro’s Arcadia (1504)
Pages 45

In 1519, Isabella d’Este (1474-1539), the learned and sophisticated Marchioness of Mantua, commissioned the sculpting of a commemorative medal by the goldsmith Girolamo Santacroce (1502-1537) to honor the Neapolitan humanist Jacopo Sannazaro (1458-1530), whom she greatly admired. The obverse of this medal shows Sannazaro in prole, wearing an honoric laurel wreath, with his prized Neapolitan Academy name-Actius Syncerus-stamped on either side of his image near the edges of the coin. The principal reverse displays a remarkably detailed nativity as described by the author in his De Partu Virginis (1526), his Nativity in Latin, an epic or epyllion considered his crowning achievement by the composer himself as well as by a number of critics today. An alternate reverse, likely executed by someone other than Santacroce, features a sacrice to Janus, the ancient Roman god of portals, thresholds, beginnings, and endings, usually depicted as two-faced, one looking backward to the past, and the other looking forward to the future (Kidwell 160, 180-81, 245n46). This image is especially appropriate since Sannazaro sacriced to Janus all his life as a gifted philologist, lover of ancient ruins, artifacts, and cultures, and as an avid, meticulous craftsman of ancient and modern languages who blended elements of the past and present together to create an enduring literary legacy for the future. Bearing in mind the wordplay so cultivated by Sannazaro and other humanists, the gure of Janus may also refer obliquely to Saint Januarius, Naples’ beloved patron San Gennaro, whose body was moved to the city cathedral in 1497, a reference the devout Christian and Neapolitan Sannazaro would doubtless have appreciated.