This website is dedicated to the study of sculpture and decorative arts from the 15th-thru-18th centuries, with an emphasis on Renaissance bronze plaquettes—small reliefs cast in metal—whose invention and application varied during the Renaissance and thereafter. Other objects studied on this website include sculptures, devotional paxes, antique gems, crucifixes, reverse-painted rock crystals, Limoges enamels and other marginalized curiosities from this period in history.
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 Renaissance 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 personal research and private observations. In the the papers presented here I hope to summarize our current understanding of these artworks 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 the antiquarian book dealer, Adam Weinberger, from whom I was acquiring various artifacts. I owe much of my initial knowledge to his experience with the subject.
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 soul.
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 interests to get in touch.
My interest in the sculptural qualities of Renaissance plaquettes has naturally led to an appreciation for sculpture in-the-round and the content of this website has thus evolved into a place to share my research and ideas on a variety of artworks beyond only bronzes of the Renaissance. While I attempt to hold myself to a reasonable standard of academic criteria, I note that the work herein is typically not peer reviewed and while not as rigorous a standard as that employed in professional journals and academic institutions, I retain the liberty to express and propose occasional ideas that some academics would refrain from on account of their intellectual reputations. I recognize the pursuit of knowledge and information is only forwarded by our humility, when required, and privilege’s itself on that bit of an adventurous idea that can solve the riddles that often anticipate the student of art history.
I invite the visitor to also peruse my ever-evolving curated collection of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque sculpture and decorative arts at: www.oldworldwonders.com
[by Michael Riddick]