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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 8 The Collector’s Study: Collecting and Display


Previous chapters have examined the use of plaquette designs in works of art in other media, as well as their manifestations as hat badges, sword pommels, parts of inkwells and other desk-top objects. It has been shown that this kind of practical use was confined to only around a third of all the small reliefs now known as plaquettes. Such functional reliefs were consid- ered at the time to be entirely separate types of object from those seemingly produced solely for pleasure and contemplation, perhaps for collectors.1 Before considering the display and collecting of plaquettes, it is useful to set the scene by investigating what types of reliefs were collected and establishing some of the key features of such works. Those plaquettes which were the free invention of contemporary artists have already been examined in detail in earlier chapters. And although plaquettes ‘after the antique’ and those based on designs by Valerio Belli and Giovanni Bernardi have also already been discussed, they will be brief ly reassessed as individual works rather than as reproductions of more famous originals in precious materials. The main bulk of this chapter will consist of an assessment of methods of display and contemporary collecting habits. This will be carried out in the context of other types of multiply produced objects of the time – namely medals, table-top bronzes and prints. In order to understand the role this type of plaquette had in contemporary visual culture, questions also need 1 Surviving plaquettes can be roughly divided into...

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