The Portland Vase, £5.00
Length: 17.200 cm
Width: 10.900 cm
Gift of T. Whitcombe Greene
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Cast gilt bronze pax
Italy, AD 1486
Plaquettes depicting devotional subjects were almost certainly used as paxes, richly-decorated tablets presented at the Catholic Mass for the kiss of peace. The handle on this example indicate it was mounted as a pax. Here the plaquette depicts the Virgin and Child, after a work by the celebrated Renaissance sculptor Donatello (about 1386-1466).
Plaquettes are usually small, single-sided reliefs, generally produced in series in bronze or lead. As a rule, they are not independent creations but castings from originals in gold or silver, stone or ivory, or taken from impressions of antique gems. Renaissance collectors in particular stimulated the production of plaquettes in order that they could acquire small-scale, portable reproductions of rare and costly originals. Although the artist or source of the original works are usually identifiable, plaquette artists generally remain unknown, unless their work is signed. Works after Donatello may well have been produced in his workshop.
On the base is a coat of arms of the owner, Marino Tomacelli, Bishop of Cassano (1485-94); engraved on the reverse are his name and the date (1486).
J.G. Pollard, 'The plaquette collections in the British Museum' in Italian plaquettes, Studies in the History of Art vol. 22 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1989), pp. 227-245
M. Chapman, Padua in the 1450s: Marco Zopp, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)