Patronage During the Italian Renaissance

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Introduction:

Imagine being an artist in Florence during the 1400-1500’s. The city would be a lively place bursting with numerous aspiring artists. Of the young men learning their trade as best as possible, most will not achieve centuries of notoriety. The ones that do earn the honor of being remembered today all had a common theme; wealthy patrons, including wealthy individuals, guilds and the church. Throughout the Italian Renaissance, the artists who achieved the most success were the artists who acquired the most notable patrons. Probably the most famous of these patrons were the Medici’s and, like other patrons, they were rich and powerful. The power did not always come directly from running the government, but because they had enough financial influence over the people in the Florentine government they indirectly influenced how the area was run. This influence means they had connections with the most important people of their day, important people who would also create commissions for the artists. Powerful families were not only financially secure, but had excess money to spend on expensive items such as bronze sculptures. For the patrons it was all about showing off what they could afford to other wealthy families. Wealthy families influenced the arts because they wanted to show off, it was politically wise, and they actually appreciated the arts. These reasons lead to a profound impact upon the patron-artist relationship and the art produced during the Italian Renaissance period.

Patronage To Flaunt
The Medici’s were a highly affluent family and they desired to show off their excess wealth. Basically, they wanted to flaunt their wealth. Once the more expensive things in life, such fancy clothes are bought and a fancy party provided for all the friends, what else is there to do with such an excess of money? Becoming a patron of the arts was not always in association with a love of art, but because the people who could afford it wanted to show off their wealth and prestige. One of the very best ways to do this was to purchase extravagant and expensive artwork, because it is long lasting and highly visual. One example of prestige is the tabernacle for the Church of the Annunziara in Florence. It was commissioned by Piero d’Medici and the inscription states that the marble alone costs 4000 florins. (Burke, p 98) Another proof this reason for patronage was so common is the statement, “the majority of the types of commission just referred to were determined by the taste and outlook of the upper middle class.” (Antal, p134) Many other sources assert the same exact thing. Most commissions were done according to the taste of the upper middle class because they were the people competing with one another to have the most extraordinary art. It is easy to invite people over and show the art to them or conveniently place artworks in public places to feature to clients and coworkers. This is a social practice widely used today and was in no way different during the Italian Renaissance.

Political Scheming
A wealthy person might support the arts based on politic scheming. If the wealth holder is a patron of the arts, then it shows he respects the talents of other men and is willing to support those other men. To quote Machiavelli, “A prince ought to show himself a lover of ability, giving employment to able men and honoring those who excel in a particular field.”(Burke, p99) For someone with political aspirations, living this type of life would prove to political supporters how aware he or she is of other people’s abilities. And when someone supports those abilities as just a regular member of society, that support will likely increase as the person rises in power and wealth. The Medici’s exemplified this by the amount of art they increasingly commissioned as they increased in wealth and climbed their way to control over Florence. An example of political scheming is Botticelli’s Adoration...
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