Clark, Leah R. (2019). Artefacts. In: Buono, Amy and Dupré, Sven eds. A Cultural History of Color in the Renaissance. A Cultural History of Color, vol. 3. London: Bloomsbury, (In Press).


Colour played an important role in the interest in, and interpretation of, a wide range of small portable objects—from gems and jewels to glass and ceramics—that were increasingly collected and prized in the Renaissance. This chapter will be particularly attentive to the ways in which colour held specific cultural or symbolic significance depending on the artefact and its colour, from references to antiquity to that of foreign lands. Renewed interests in antiquity as well as expanded trade routes meant that new types of artefacts introduced new colour sensibilities in the Renaissance. Ancient gems were highly celebrated not only for their iconographies but also for the allure of their colour and the craftsmen’s manipulation of the tonal differences of their materials. Jewels—from rubies to emeralds—were prized too for their colour and the effects they had when worn on the body or adorning a book cover or reliquary. Medieval lapidaries paired with new antiquarian interests gave rise to an understanding that colour could endow gems and jewels with particular magical properties. An emphasis on brilliance also led to increasing interests in translucent materials such as Venetian glass, which was then enhanced with colourful decorations. Trade and diplomacy also introduced new types of objects and colours. Chinese porcelain was a highly prized but rare ceramic that was collected and sought after by ruling elites across Europe and Asia. The blue cobalt designs appearing on porcelain became copied and mimicked in ceramics across the globe from Persia to Turkey to Spain to Italy and came to signify foreign origins. Colour played a central role in the mimicry of materials—from the depiction of porphyry and marble on the back of small portable panels to the imitation of blue motifs on counterfeit porcelain. This chapter will explore how colour was integral to the interpretation of artefacts, but also how the introduction of new colours on novel artefacts gave rise to copies and replications, and in turn new objects, which led to new approaches to the material and visual world.

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