Touching the Relief. Experiencing Medals and Plaquettes through the Sense of Touch
Giulia Zaccariotto received her PhD in Art History from the Scuola Normale Superiore, where she was also a postdoctoral fellow in 2020, with a focus on Renaissance medals and plaquettes. She has held curatorial positions at the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro in Venice (2014-2015) and at the Galleria Estense in Modena (2017-2019) where she reordered and studied the medagliere. Her publications include several studies on alphabetical characters in medals, a manuscript about coins forgeries and numismatic experts in early seventeenth-century Rome (discovered in the Getty Research Library), and the catalogue of the Mario Scaglia collection of Renaissance and Baroque medals (2020).
The theme of the tactile relationship between the work of art and the beholder has been widely studied, but in analyzing the different reasons for which objects were touched, historians have never considered the role played by small bronze reliefs like medals and plaquettes, which were objects created to be handled. The objectives of this project run on two parallel tracks. One involves a study of the early sources regarding the tactile approach of collectors and the devout towards medals and plaquettes, in order to gain a thorough understanding of the sensations perceived and the actions carried out, which are the prerequisites for comprehending the works in their context. The other objective starts with an analysis of the different ways that medals are displayed, investigating to what degree real involvement is triggered in the spectator. Here the intention is to find new solutions that focus on the sense of touch, to get past the glass barrier dividing the spectator from the object and arrive at an experience that is also haptic, because, as the French philosopher Michel Pastoureau correctly expressed in his 1986 article in The Medal: “une mèdaille qui n'est manipulée n'existe pas.”