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Fashion, Devotion and Contemplation

The Status and Functions of Italian Renaissance Plaquettes

Marika Leino

Italian Renaissance ‘plaquettes’ are often stored and displayed as a homogeneous category or genre in museum collections due to their apparently uniform small relief format. This has resulted in a scholarly literature that has concentrated largely on connoisseurship and taken the form of catalogues, thereby both responding to and propagating the myth of this classification. However, what is often forgotten, or buried deep in scattered catalogue entries, is that during the Renaissance this small relief format was regularly mass-produced and employed extensively in a variety of different contexts. Far from being a homogeneous category, plaquettes were originally viewed as many separate types of object, including pieces for personal adornment, liturgical objects, domestic artefacts, and models for architecture and painting. For the Renaissance consumer, the commission of a hat badge with a personal motto, the purchase of an off-the-shelf inkwell or the acquisition of a small relief for his study were separate concerns.
The aim of this book is to redress the balance by examining these reliefs in terms of their use, alongside broader issues regarding the status of such objects within visual, scholarly and artistic culture from the fifteenth century to the early sixteenth.


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Chapter 1 Introduction


This book has its origins in a desire to understand plaquettes functionally, outside the confines of a catalogue-based approach. The social and artistic context of these reliefs and their myriad of uses are examined regardless of a convention for classification by artist, geographic region, date or iconog- raphy. Whilst these parameters are clearly important and useful, it seems that plaquette reliefs cannot really be placed in their full context, nor their status be fully analysed, without recourse to a more function-led examina- tion. This book is intended as an introduction and hopefully a catalyst for further excursions into the role these reliefs played in the scholarly and artistic milieu of fifteenth and early sixteenth-century Italy. Although plaquettes are among the most common sculptural works of the Renaissance, no general investigation of this type of object has yet been made. To date, plaquette literature has concentrated almost exclusively on the traditional issues of attribution, dating and iconography, mainly in the form of museum and collection catalogues. Such a method of scholar- ship has limits, not only due to the restricted number of objects each cata- logue can address, but also because it is dif ficult to gain a comprehensive understanding of the objects as a group through scattered remarks made in catalogue entries, however perceptive. The aim of this book, then, is to redress the balance and to exam- ine plaquettes, not through an analysis of artists or subjects, but rather through an investigation of the ways in which the reliefs...

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