Plaque portrait

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Plaque of CharlesⅠ,[From Robinson, A Portrait Plaque of Charles Ⅰ, The British Museum Quarterly, 17(1), 1952, p. 10.]

Definition: Plaque[1]


  • 1. A thin, flat plate or tablet of metal, porcelain, etc., intended for ornament, as on a wall, or set in a piece of furniture.
  • 2. An inscribed commemorative tablet, usually of metal placed on a building, monument, or the like.
  • 3. A platelike brooch or ornament, esp. one worn as the badge of an honorary order.

(Cited, plaque. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved December 04, 2010)

The Aesthetic of Portrait

From, Kinney and Cutler, A Late Antique Ivory Plaque and Modern Response, American Journal of Archaeology, 98(3), 1994, p.459
From the perspective of psychoanalysis, Lacan’s theory takes a place on the most far-reaching theories: “The mirror stage.” Before beginning with the briefly illustration of Lacan’s theory, the first thing is how people construct themselves in cognition and how to illustrate ‘the self’ and ‘the other’ to be specific the subjectivity and objectivity. The most far-reaching theory in psychoanalysis – which is the mirror stage – is about the formation: “the forming of and I, of an identity.” (Gallop, 1983:119)

According to Gallop (1983), “the mirror stage is a turning point. After the subject’s relation to himself is always mediated through a totalizing, unified concept – a division between an inside and an outside – there is no ‘self’ before the mirror stage.”(120-121) In this notes, Gallop asserts “It is a turning point in chronology of a self, but it is also the origin, the moment of constitution of that self.” (121)

In addition, the moment of formation itself is one of the constituent foundations to build up the development of portrait. Moreover, the mirror stage would be the first moment to realize self and the other and promotes the first historical sketch on the portrait.

Iconography and disjuncture: Between the portrait and the photography

As the moment of formation of itself, the way of iconography gets a various ways to illustrate either being seen, or seeing. Before advancing the photography, the portrait has an authority not only to encode figurative images but also make an archive. “Hence Iconography, as a term approximately parallel to bibliography, means the gathering of images or representations which show some stated subject or person or place or symbol, so that the subject may be studied in the light of various ways in which it has been recorded by artist and photographers.” (Vanderbilt, 1958:107)From the point of iconographical view, it would be a homogeneous character between the photography and the portrait. On the other hand, the way of encoding process is one of the most different ways. First of all, Richter reasserts Adorno’s definition about the self - portrait below: “While Adorno’s self-portrait is, in both versions, also about the very process of being looked at -caught – in the act of self-portraiture, the second version makes the dimension of spectatorship more explicit.” (Richter, 2002: 5) If so, the characteristics of the photograph would be briefly defined as below: “The Photograph is “the advent of me and as other: a cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity,” then the “madness of photography” can be said to have “transformed subject into object, and even, one might say, into a museum object.”(Richter, 2002:-3) How do we recognize ourselves? And also how could we trace the way of representation? What is the beginning of the iconography of portrait as the way of representation? Derrida asserts “the portrait captures the eyes, meaning the gaze, meaning that far which, among other things, photography exists. We assume of the gaze that it is what the subject itself cannot see in its life. If you look at yourself in a mirror, you see yourself either seeing or being seen, but never both at once.” (Richter, 2002:3) As mentioned above, the portrait is considered as the archive of representation. Moreover, the portrait may emphasis any point of view from the subject that being seen and then it has own authenticity which is not to simply duplicate portraits as many as it could without any technical aids. In this sense, here is the most outstanding feature of the portrait. “It is no accident that the portrait was the focal point of early photography (my emphasis). The cult of remembrance of loved ones, absent or dead, offers a last refuge for the cult value of the picture. For the last time the aura emanates from the early photographs in the fleeting expression of a human face. This is what constitutes their melancholy, incomparable beauty.” (Benjamin, 1935: 226) Among, whole discourses around the portrait, the questions of authority and authenticity come up.

Questions of Authenticity

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Plaque Portrait of George Washington

The plaque means “A thin, flat plate or tablet of metal, porcelain to commemorate or intended for ornament.”Definition: PlaqueIn general, there are many ways to express a portrait onto any materials in terms of paper, woods, stones, and walls etc…But the plaque portrait has limited accessibility and owns an authenticity since getting the materials for plaque portrait is not a customary ones. “Among the most original manifestations of German art the carvings in box, lime, pear, and other finely grained woods which particularly characterize the sixteenth century. While other countries worked in precious woods, no country showed a greater predilection for these materials than did Germany; and in one charming bypath, the realm of portrait plaque and medallion…” (M.M, 1928:155) The origin of plaque is described as below: “The Original inventory description of the plaque dating from 1861, as published by Raftery (1941:106), gives the materials of the plaque as “thin sheet iron covered with pellicle of copper and gilt.” More than forty years ago, Raftery (1941:106) stated that “it is made of then iron covered with bronze. The latter was gilt, but the gilding is now nearly all gone.” In his most recent comments, Raftery (1980:34) states, however, that it is of bronze, and in addition says that “the features are raised from the back, where there are traces of an iron background to which the mount adhered originally.” The back of the plaque, of which a photograph is published here.”(Harbison,1984:1)In this sense, the plaque does not publicize to anyone. Hence, the artwork made from the plaque has unique features.

The lexicon of space and illusion

Encoding figurative images onto the Plaque

From, Strong, A Bronze plaque in the Rosenheim collection, Papers of the British School at Rome, 9(8), 1920, p. 216)
The plaque portrait is usually used for monument those who has a great achievement. As we could see the plaque portrait of George Washington, it is considered as an efficient way to represent figures. In addition, “An illustration of the plaque is taken from the same photograph as the present plate.” (Strong, 1920:214) Hence, we could see the other example of the plaque portrait as below: “This Plaque is 32 cm. high and nearly 19cm broad rounded at the top and pierced with holes for suspension or attachment. The philosopher is represented in profile, facing right, with long hair…” (Strong: 1920: 217) “A Monumental Plaque designed by Bernini was placed on the interior façade of S. Maria in Aracoeli; a magnificent temporary catafalque also designed by Bernini was erected in the same church for the obsequies that were held there on 3 August.” (Lavin, 1983: 6)

However, the plaque portrait is limited to represent everything that the figurative image has since it is based on the two dimensional. Even if there are many ways to iconography something onto the two dimensional space in terms of paper, the wall and, of course, the plaque etc, it is not good enough for represent figurative images and does not mean the two dimensional art works is useless anymore. Moreover, it does not address what are huge heterogeneous features between two dimensional and three dimensional arts work. The point is why the plaque portrait is getting fade out these days? What makes the plaque portrait is less significant way of representation?

Breakdown the plaque portrait

From, Strong, A Bronze plaque in the Rosenheim collection, Papers of the British School at Rome, 9(8), 1920, p. 216

Fade out the Aura in the informational production era

As the technological change has always affected art, the portrait has influenced by technological aids. In this sense the plaque portrait is getting fade out the uniqueness and the aura. Moreover, the quality of portrait by the photography is not compatible with others. According to Benjamin, “’The work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility’ professes the displacement of the authentic object under new conditions of mass reproduction under new conditions of mass reproduction. In technically reproduced art – that is, object whose very basis is technological – there can no longer be a significant notion of originality that is valued for its inviolate authenticity. The reproduction of an object on celluloid stands as a copy of itself, and no longer a unique representation.” (Benjamin, 1988:9) Benjamin’s argument has been widely spread by the early seventies, and then it brought acquaintance of relationship between art and technology. Furthermore, there is no more the only unique artwork or portrait anymore. He asserted that these changes based on the technological conditions, of course, affect the whole art work in the cultural breakthrough. “One primary way in which photography modernized our way of seeing was to provide for the first time a means of mechanically forming an image of the world, creating an authoritative “truthful” realism.” (Lovejoy, 1990:257) Furthermore, it is quite reasonable statement that technological advancement brings controversial issues. On the one hand, it alters the way of seeing, even though it fades out the Aura in the many of artwork. On the other hand, it could not avoid the responsibility to bring a question of authenticity.


The Mediated Semiotic Meaning: From the nostalgia

From, Lavin, Bernini’s Memorial Plaque for Carlo Barberini, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 42(1), 1983,p.6.
The plaque as a material to encode a figurative image hardly sees in the portrait yet early to say that useless anymore. The plaque is still used in the buildings to monument special ones who are contributed to their effort. The mediated meaning of the plaque is to honor special event and in the memory of person. However, the plaque is not the only way to monument a special event. As we already discussed above, the advanced technologies expand the scheme of art works including the portrait. In this sense, there is no one who sticks to the plaque portrait. Even though the symbolic meaning is transferred to the advanced technological portrait, the Aura in the plaque portrait is not proceeding to new forms portrait. Anyone makes their own portrait themselves through any technical machines. In other words, anyone can be the artists and celebrate their art works. It seems like there is no barrier to get enter the art world. Even if everything related with art works are open to public, there are those who want to dwell on the formal way of represent themselves or monument any precious events. According to Benjamin,

“Mass production is aided especially by the reproduction of masses…This process, whose significance need not be stressed, is intimately connected with the development of the techniques of reproduction and photography.” (Benjamin, 1969:251) Nowadays, it hardly sees the moment to make the plaque portrait for the public. However, we could experience making the plaque portrait just for the memorial moment. In this sense, the plaque portrait may no longer practice a useful function in the current media ecology, but there are many ways to represent figurative images such as instant photography and editable images produced by digital cameras. Hence, the functional foundation is not popular anymore but the symbolic meaning of portrait is still common in the public. The reason why people have a favor to differentiated the other in their cognition. In other words, there is no reason to extinct the way of representation themselves.

Works Cited