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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 3 Agents of Dissemination: Plaquette Designs in Other Media


Chapter 3 Agents of Dissemination: Plaquette Designs in Other Media It is a common assumption in much art-historical literature that one of the major functions of ‘independent’ plaquettes was the dissemination of designs between artists’ workshops. However, this traditional notion can be challenged through an exploration of the use of plaquette designs on other contemporary media, especially Lombard architectural monuments; paintings, drawing and engravings; as well as stamped leather bookbindings and pastiglia caskets. Although undoubtedly some artists did utilize these reliefs as source material, it is clear that the majority of plaquette reliefs were not intended as artists’ models, but rather as objects in their own right. A consideration of some of these pieces, be they collectors’ reliefs all’antica or items of personal adornment such as hat badges, shows that far from being a tool for artists, these reliefs were designed with a view to a specific use and market. Equally, it becomes clear with a closer examination, that the depiction of so-called plaquette designs on painted media, prints, bookbindings and architectural monuments is not as straightforward as might appear at a first glance. In many cases correlations are not direct and generally not ubiquitous enough to warrant definite suggestions of origi- nal purpose. A systematic examination reveals that the relation of these works to plaquette designs is very diverse and sometimes less important than is often assumed. Emile Molinier’s suggestion that bronze plaquettes based on the antique had a leading role in the dif fusion of plaquette designs between...

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