A reproduction of a work of art, by the artist that made the original. It is so called to distinguish it from a “copy,” which is made by another artist. When the two are made with equal skill the replica is the more valuable, for it is supposed to be more beautiful than it looks.
Ambrose Bierce would have written that about 100 years ago and it seems that the first citation for the word replica wasn’t much further back than that.
The OED dates it at 1824, and sure enough the earlier meanings of replica did apply to works of art that the original artist was pumping out to resemble an original.
But where did replica come from as a word before 1824?
There are certainly older related English words dating back hundreds of years. What took replica so long?
Because we are talking about the art world here it makes sense that this word replica was borrowed by art aficionados from Italian. Why use an English word when a fancy Italian one will do.
Back when Italian was Latin the parent of replica was replicare which meant to “unfold,” “reflect on” and “reply.”
So an artistic replica isn’t a cynical attempt to make more money off a piece that went well the first time, it’s an artistic reexamination of the themes and techniques the artist explored in the earlier masterpiece.
But I want to dig a little deeper into those meanings “unfold,” and “reply.”
Funny how the word replica sort of sounds a bit like the word reply isn’t it.
Reply is one of those older words in English I hinted at before. It comes from the same Latin root as replica, this time through French and showing up as early as Chaucer in 1385.
But back then the Latin parent word didn’t mean “unfold” it meant “refold.”
A plica is a “fold” or a “wrinkle,” so re-plicare means “to fold again.”
It’s not clear to me if when someone is replying it is because the ancients actually refolded the paper to write on it again to send their answer back, or if the re-folding is more metaphorical and refers to the back and forth route of the message.
I’ll have to reflect on that.