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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 4 Antique Influences and all’antica Creations


Chapter 4 Antique Inf luences and all’antica Creations The fashion for all things antique reached fever pitch in the middle of the fifteenth century, fuelled by an increasing number of new archaeological finds. The demand for ancient objects continued unabated well into the sixteenth century, resulting in a need for direct copies of ancient works as well as modern all’antica creations to satisfy those who could not procure original antiquities. Direct Copies after the Antique Most plaquettes based on antique models are casts of hard stone engrav- ings or copies of ancient coins. A few were modelled on famous ancient sculptures, such as the Laocoon, but these were the exception. In any case, they were not direct copies, but rather interpretations on a very dif ferent scale from the work in question. Reliefs based on hard stone engravings, on the other hand, were made either from a direct cast of the gem or from a derivative of that cast, always roughly the same size as the original.1 There are around 150 known plaquette designs which are based on identifiable antique sources.2 About two thirds of these feature portrait busts, mainly 1 In the process of casting some shrinkage will occur, making a plaquette very slightly smaller than the stone it is taken from – for more details of the process of produc- tion, see the technical analysis in Chapter 2. 2 Many of these designs were cast in multiple copies. For example, the famous Apollo and Marsyas gem is reproduced on...

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