What is artistic patronage and how important is the patron's input Patrons exerted a strong influence on the creation and execution of art in Italy between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. Art served specific functions so that artists were paid to produce exactly what the patron wanted. The artist could be creative to the extent of his natural and acquired capacity but always within the conditions imposed by the patron. The system of patronage was a commercial process and artwork therefore reflected both seller and buyer. "The work was viewed as a product of two energies in which the artist articulated, by rendering shapes, the message assigned by the patron. This most often made the patron the more interesting figure" as it was the patron, not the artist, who was seen by contemporaries as the creator of the project. Wealthy and powerful patrons would commission works of art which were invariably linked to the economical and political structures of the area or in the context of religious duty. In Italy, an absolute ruler (political or religious) invariably dominated the cultural life of the city. He spent lavishly on providing visual evidence of wealth and status and knew the value of arts as propaganda. This pattern was different in Florence where the city was governed by wealthy merchants and bankers who were responsible for commissioning much of the art for the churches and chapels of Florence during the fifteenth century. This group of powerful families wanted to show the world that their learning, piety and taste made them worthy of their high standing in society. Among the greatest patrons were members of the powerful Medici family, who spent money on constructing churches and encouraging art. The works date from the time of Lorenzo de Medici whom Machiavelli called "the greatest patron of art and literature that any prince has ever been". The Florentine government also transferred the responsibility for artistic projects to individual guilds. The guilds formed the basis of the city's political system. For example, during the fourteenth century, the Duomo and Baptistery were allocated to the Wool and Cloth Merchants respectively. The government also established "...guild rivalry as a powerful competitive spur to public patronage in Florence". Women were also active artistic patrons and commissioned art in their roles as religious, royalty and noble women. Often, agreements with artists were arranged for women by a male family member, a monk, or a priest. Religious women and their communities (holy orders, individual nuns and abbesses) ordered decorations for their convent cells, refectories, and church altarpieces. In the case of more independent and especially highborn women, there is clear evidence of women acting for themselves. European royalty often had their portraits painted and noblewomen sometimes commissioned works of art for their villas. One example is the noblewoman Isabella d'Este, who was a highly involved patron and commissioned a substantial amount of art by famous painters to decorate her private studiolo quarters. "Isabella's intention, as she pointed out in a letter to her agent in Florence, was to get the best artists in Italy to produce paintings in competition with each other." The Christian church dominated the lives of Europeans and thus embodied both the government and the patron. This, of course, meant that most commissions for artists would be of a religious nature. Artwork often elaborated aspects of a patron's piety, such as his attachment to his name saint or his devotion to a particular religious order. For example, Francesco Sassetti's chapel in Santa Trinità, Florence, was decorated with scenes from the life of St Francis. In contrast, many banking families viewed the funding of altarpieces and chapels as a kind of penance for usury, which was condemned by the church but inherent to their profession. As the fifteenth century progressed, however, nobility became increasingly...
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