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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 7 Plaquettes and Rock Crystals: Valerio Belli and Giovanni Bernardi

Extract

In this chapter some of the plaquettes derived from hard stone and rock crystal engrav- ings, mainly by Valerio Belli (1468–1546) and Giovanni Bernardi (1496–1555), will be discussed. As well as being chronologically some of the latest plaquettes, these are considered here as a separate group due to the fact that many of them reproduce works originating in dif ferent materi- als, much in the way that pla- quettes based on ancient gem engravings did a century ear- lier, and therefore may repre- sent a product aimed at a dif ferent market to other plaquettes analysed in this book.1 Furthermore, the reliefs designed by these two artists are unusual in being so clearly tied to the artistic personalities of their makers. This 1 The hard stone engravings themselves will not be examined systematically, but will be referred to solely when relevant to the understanding of the related plaquettes. Equally, it is unfortunately not within the scope of this book to address the numer- ous issues arising from the lives and works of the hard stone engravers in any great detail. There is much material still to be covered regarding Renaissance hard-stone Figure 136 Manno Sbarri and Giovanni Bernardi, gilded silver and rock crystal casket, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples. 224 Chapter 7 chapter will concentrate on three main questions which seem to encapsu- late the complexities of studying plaquettes related rock crystal engravings: Why were metal reliefs cast from crystal engravings? Who executed them? And who were they...

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