ABOUT THIS WEBSITE
This website is dedicated to the study of 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 of study featured on this website include paxes, antique gems, crucifixes, reverse painted rock crystals, etc.
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, the cause has proven too time consuming insofar as publishing 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 and auction house representatives to get in touch if you wish to share or inquire about these objects or about the subject in general. I am always happy to share my thoughts and resources.
The purpose of organizing a census of Renaissance plaquettes is with the hope that new examples will come to surface that may in turn 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 plaquette reliefs I have instead chosen to use this website as a repository for the cataloging of my own collection, and more importantly, as a resource intended to further advance our knowledge about the subject through detailed studies and articles. The papers presented here 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, intellectuals and eccentrics may continue an appreciation for them and forever be grateful to 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 and friend 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 specimens 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 sad fact 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 specimen 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.
One further attraction about this art is that it speaks to a man’s intrinsic nature, which is the call to “hunt,” “compete” and “discover.” The art of collecting plaquettes speaks to these three components. There is the constant hunt and watch for those specimens you desire for your collection, and given their rarity in commerce, makes it all the more challenging. Then, once found, there is the competition (often fiscally) to own such specimens as there are other avid collectors or dealers pursuing them. Lastly, there is the fruitfulness of discovery, the advent of finding a rare specimen in an unlikely place or the thrill that comes with learning about and researching these artifacts in the most obscure intellectual and cultural corners of academia.
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.
[by Michael Riddick]