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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 5 Religious Demand


Around a quarter of small reliefs categorized as plaquettes show religious subjects.1 These do not form a homogeneous group and can be loosely divided into types depending on their status and significance. In this chap- ter these dif ferent types of religious relief and their uses will be discussed with a view to placing them into the wider context of the disparate group of objects today called plaquettes. Three separate groupings of religious reliefs can be made, mostly on the basis of their intended use. However, it should be noted that some overlap does occur between these groupings. The first, and largest, group comprises reliefs produced specifically for religious practice, whether for private use as panels in portable altars or as other devotional objects, or those intended for use in churches as paxes,2 tabernacle doors, components of candlesticks, crucifixion groups and other devotional objects. A subgroup of these is the numerous appliqués intended for the decoration of dif ferent liturgical objects. Whilst this subgroup is not strictly speaking related to plaquettes, they are often catalogued in the same manner, and therefore will be brief ly examined here.3 A second group of religious plaquettes appears to have no specific function and seem to have been manufactured for the benefit of collectors, much in the way that many reliefs with classical or mythologi- cal subject matters were. As well as these two separate groups, a number of religious reliefs directly based on engraved sources will be explored, and 1 Excluded...

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