PLAQUETTES, small-scale reliefs cast in bronze and other metals, were fashionable among European collectors for 100 years or more from the mid 15th century. They could be rectangular or circular (when they are often referred to as medals, in the commemorative sense) and they might be designed by the greatest artists.
In the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence there is a wonderful trompe l’oeil painting of a cabinet of curiosities by Andrea Domenico Remps (1620– 99), which includes at least four examples. I had hoped that, by chance, at least one of these might have been represented in the collection recently sold by Matthew Barton at Olympia Auctions, but, alas, not.
As Jeremy Warren, honorary curator of sculpture at the Ashmolean, wrote in an introductory catalogue note, during the earlier part of the 20th century, they were ‘eagerly collected and studied, but they have since become a somewhat unjustly neglected art form. At their best, plaquettes are extraordinarily inventive and beautiful works of art, which in their choice and treatment of subject matter are truly emblematic of the Renaissance rebirth of the Arts’.
A friend has been happily collecting them during these years of neglect, a particular triumph being an historically important and possibly unique medal by Dürer at a price for which one might get a poor impression of one of his prints.
The Bernard Kelly plaquette collection formed 181 lots of the Barton sale, all offered without reserve. The metals included silver, bronze and lead, and the images were mostly antique, mythological and religious subjects, with some portraits and historical figures. The majority had been acquired from Alfred Spero (1886–1973), an eminent dealer with premises in Clifford Street, W1, next door to the present Eskenazi Gallery.
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