Comparing Patronage Systems in Northern Europe

Comparing Patronage Systems in Northern Europe
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  • 0:01 What is Patronage?
  • 1:05 Patronage in Catholic…
  • 4:25 Different Kind of…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we'll discuss the patronage systems of Northern Europe in the Baroque era. We'll learn what patronage is, who the major patrons were, and how the system was beginning to change, especially in Holland.

What Is Patronage?

Let's face it. As dedicated to their art as many artists may be, they still need to eat, to wear clothes, and to keep a roof over their heads. That means that they need to find a market for their art and sometimes pretty quickly when they're down to their last few coins and their cupboards are bare.

Other people, those who have quite a bit money, are perfectly willing to purchase art and often to commission special works. These connoisseurs enjoy artistic beauty and they appreciate the social standing that owning fine art brings to them. Sometimes they even use art for religious purposes to help them pray and worship.

Patronage is a system that helps bring together artists and the people willing to commission and purchase their work. The latter group are called patrons. In this lesson, we'll see how patronage worked in the Baroque period of the 17th century. We'll learn about the major patrons of that era and we'll discover how the patronage system was beginning to change, especially in Holland.

Patronage in Catholic Countries

In Catholic countries like Italy, France, and Spain, 17th-century patronage of the arts remained very much like it had been for centuries. Artists started out by working for other artists, learning their trade, improving their skills, and helping their masters complete projects. When the time came for an artist to strike out on his own, he sought a patron to give him his first independent job, perhaps a commission for a sculpture or a portrait. If he did the job well and the patron was satisfied, the artist could hope for more commissions from that patron and others. If something went wrong, however, if the artist failed to satisfy the patron or if the patron ran out of money, the artist could be staring at bare cupboards for a while until he found a new commission or could sell a piece that he had already completed. Nothing was ever certain in the world of art.

Artists of 17th-century Italy, France, and Spain turned to three major categories of patrons to support their artistic endeavors.

1. The Catholic Church was a major patron of the arts. This was the era of the Counter-Reformation, and the Church often used art to teach and inspire Catholics. Churches throughout Europe commissioned artists to create dramatic buildings, like Francesco Borromini's San Carlo in Rome, and elaborate paintings, like Peter Paul Rubens' The Raising of Christ and Caravaggio's The Calling of Matthew. Through art, Catholics could catch a glimpse of the beauty of God and, caught up in the emotion and wonder of the art, raise their minds to him.

2. Monarchs also made for strong patrons of the arts. Kings and queens loved to show off and owning stunning works of art allowed them do that. Artists didn't mind helping out, especially when that meant getting paid. King Philip of Spain, for instance, commissioned Diego Velazquez to paint forty portraits of his royal self over several years. The artist also painted portraits of the royal family and captured scenes from history and everyday life. Not to be left behind, Louis XIV of France was a great patron of the arts. He commissioned Hyacinthe Rigaud to paint his portrait in 1701. He also hired scores of artists to design and decorate his marvelous palace of Versailles, which showed off the king's love of beauty as well as (and probably more importantly) his wealth and importance.

3. Wealthy individuals, both clergy and laity, also supported the arts. They could afford to purchase portraits and commission elaborate paintings and sculptures, and doing so gave them greater social status. Artist Hyacinthe Rigaud, for instance, painted portraits of many French dukes and noblemen, while sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini created famous sculptures like The Rape of Persephone, Apollo and Daphne, and David for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, and Caravaggio painted works like The Musicians and Bacchus for Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte.

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