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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 6 Fashion Accessories


During the first quarter of the sixteenth century it was fashionable for men to wear a gold badge in their hat and to adorn their swords with elaborate historiated pommels. In plaquette literature it is often mentioned that these badges and pommels were one of the key ‘functions’, or applications, of plaquettes.1 In this chapter, hat badges and sword pommels will be examined thoroughly in terms of their relationship to plaquettes in order to understand what connection, if any, exists between the categories. Hat Badges It appears that in the early sixteenth century hat badges were worn almost exclusively by men, as part of the fashionable dress of a well-of f civilian. This fashion seems to have coincided with the trend of carrying highly decorative swords, often adorned with historiated pommels. The fashion for this type of hat ornament was introduced to Italy by the courtiers and soldiers of Charles VIII, who invaded Italy in 1494–1495. The King and his men wore badges in their hats to indicate rank, a habit which did not go unnoticed by the Italians, who immediately copied the custom of wearing badges, but solely for personal pleasure and show.2 Paolo Giovio com- mented on this trend in his Le Imprese Militari e Amorose: ‘But in these 1 For example Pope-Hennessy 1964, p. 63, and in nearly all introductions to plaquette catalogues. 2 Hackenbroch 1996, p. 90. 190 Chapter 6 times of ours, after the arrival of King Charles VIII and Louis XII in Italy,...

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