Replication, quotation, and the ‘original’ in Quattrocento collecting practices

Clark, Leah (2013). Replication, quotation, and the ‘original’ in Quattrocento collecting practices. In: Großmann, G. Ulrich and Krutisch, Petra eds. The Challenge of the Object / Die Herausforderung des Objekts, Congress Proceedings (CIHA). Wissenschaftliche Beibände zum Anzeiger der Germanischen Nationalmuseums, 1 (32). Nuremberg: Germanisches Nationalmuseum Press, pp. 136–140.


The quotation or emulation of artworks in the late Quattrocento can easily be misunderstood in modern interpretations as merely “copying,� however such a reading excludes an important component of fifteenth-century collecting culture. The collections of Eleonora d’Aragona, Duchess of Ferrara, contained paintings by Ercole de’ Roberti and Mantegna that served as models for later paintings. A diptych by Ercole de’ Roberti was copied at least twice, and records show that the “original� and at least one “copy� were both owned by Eleonora. This practice was not uncommon in the collecting culture of the Quattrocento, whereby many paintings and objects, such as cameos, gems, and statues were replicated across media. Many collections often contained both the original and its imitation. This paper will argue that this custom was linked to intellectual practices associated with the studiolo as well as contemporary notions of fabula, paragone, and imitation, that placed importance on invention, quotation and replication. The quotation of both objects and texts in works of art gave rise to new modes of viewing visual imagery which asked viewers to piece together disparate parts and fragments thereby constructing meaning across space and media. ‘Copies’ were thus not merely imitations, but rather speak to issues around artistic invention, intellectual debates, and the reading of visual imagery, all practices that took place within collecting spaces.

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