ABOUT THIS WEBSITE
This website is dedicated to the study of sculpture and decorative arts from the Renaissance, with an emphasis on plaquettes, being small reliefs cast in metal whose use and function was quite varied from the mid-15th to the 17th century. Other objects studied on this website include paxes, antique gems, crucifixes, reverse-painted rock crystals and other marginalized curiosities from the Renaissance.
The original and laborious ambition of this website was to carefully catalog and document all known examples of every plaquette identified in various collections and catalogs. However, this effort proved too time consuming insofar as maintaining a census online. I have instead chosen to maintain a private library (digital and physical) comprising thousands of images and a bounty of data about plaquettes and their related corollaries in the realm of decorative arts. I encourage collectors, dealers, scholars and auction house representatives to contact me if you’d like to share or inquire about these objects or about the subjects presented on this site.
The purpose of organizing a census of Renaissance plaquettes is with the hope that new examples will come to surface that may yield new data about designs and their inventors. Additionally, a knowledge of the quantity of known casts and their quality may yield a better understanding about how widely diffused these objects were, how they were used and appropriated over time and what regions or workshops may have been responsible for them. The efforts of this census have already proven helpful in exploring several of these themes.
Rather than publishing an online census of plaquettes I have instead chosen to use this website as a place to share my research and observations. In the the papers presented here I hope to summarize our current understanding of these objects while presenting new data, ideas and discoveries along the way.
My hope is that this website will help encourage and bring-to-life this often-marginalized art so that future generations of connoisseurs, historians, and intellectuals may continue an appreciation for them and appreciate those other connoisseurs and scholars who diligently and meticulously carved the path before them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My interest in Renaissance plaquettes was sparked in June of 2013 by an art dealer from whom I was acquiring other artifacts. I owe much of my initial knowledge to his experience with the subject. He sold me his favorite examples which happened to be rare and contemporary pieces from the early 16th century. I had hesitation about spending reasonable sums on what I initially perceived to be curious trinkets while conversely realizing there was something special about their uniqueness and rarity.
Independently, a single plaquette in one’s collection may seem monotonous but when paired with others in a group and placed on display in a cabinet or a desk, plaquettes convey a whole new effect…a virtual treasure where its contents can be mixed and matched to celebrate themes, a particular artist, or a geometrically patterned showcase that is pleasing in itself.
While commonly bundled in the category of numismatics, plaquettes have more in common with sculptures, being small reliefs honed into an intimate space that is both visible and tactile. They differ greatly from numismatics in that the objects were not manufactured in large quantity for the purpose of commerce but rather were produced in limited quantity, intended for private meditation during a time before the affront of modern media (television, cell phones, etc.). Plaquettes would enhance the environment of the Renaissance intellectual whose entertainment was found more readily in the expansion of one’s mind and spirit.
One unfortunate aspect of the Internet and printed matter is that they do not capture the “in person” experience one has while holding a centuries-old artifact. Some plaquettes are light and wispy to touch; some are heavy and command a bold respect. Others are finely detailed, incredible in their accomplishment while others are crude and visceral. Each example manifests its own presence and while we can see these “on view” in museums, there is yet a greater experience when engaging a personal collection. Being able to hold and “feel” the weight and texture of the artifact, as well as observe its valleys and peaks, shadows and highlights, whilst turning it in-hand. These qualities are what make these artifacts appreciable, something one can’t experience with the two-dimensional experience of an Old Master print, drawing or painting.
As my interest in Renaissance plaquettes evolved, I found it cumbersome navigating between books, computer files, auction records and scarce web resources on the subject. I became inspired to file this data into a single resource for my own private use, though even better, as a possible resource for other collectors, art admirers, historians, museums and the curious visitor who might cultivate an interest in the subject. I encourage and invite all those with such interest to get in touch.
I also invite the visitor to enjoy my curated collection of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque sculpture and decorative arts at: www.oldworldwonders.com
[by Michael Riddick]