Patrons of Renaissance Art: Roles, Influence & Famous Works

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  • 0:01 The Renaissance Patrons
  • 0:35 Patrons and…
  • 2:10 Famous Works of the Patrons
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the role of the patron in the creation of art during the Italian Renaissance of the 15th century. You will examine renaissance society, as well as explore several famous works.

The Renaissance Patrons

Today, we are going to answer one of the age-old questions about art. Who in the world paid for that? As much as artists wish they could just be independently wealthy and create whatever they want, the truth is they need somebody who is willing to pay for their work, and that's where patrons come in. The more that patrons are willing to pay, the more art a society will produce. So, when we talk about the immense amount of art that was produced in the 15th-century Renaissance, we don't just have the artists to thank for that - thank the patrons.

Patrons and Renaissance Society

The 15th century was the perfect time for the rise of powerful patrons. Italy was not a unified nation, but a series of city-states, independent governments around an urban center. As various cities developed more and more power, the leaders of these cities became very powerful themselves. We call these the Italian Princes, but really the leaders were dukes, counts, lords, cardinals, or even elected city representatives. These princes established their own courts and hired painters or sculptors to be the official court artists. Besides these princes, Italy was also filling up with wealthy merchants and bankers that developed personal fortunes from a lucrative market of international trade.

So, Italy was full of people who had power. What's more, these people were very proud of their power and really, really liked showing it off. So, there's two check marks on the patron checklist. But you need one more thing to really have a strong culture of patronage: education. Your wealthy, often vain, citizens need to care about art to be willing to pay for it. Italian humanism, a philosophy of art, poetry, and classical knowledge, grew rapidly in the 15th century. The princes relied on an image of being well educated, intellectual, and devoted to the arts and philosophy. So, there you go, the perfect mixture to create a society of patrons.

Now for the cherry on top. According to humanist philosophies, art was morally uplifting for all of society. So when patrons commissioned a major work of public art, it was seen as a gift to the people. This added a final motivation for patrons to commission art, as a way to increase their fame and immortalize their legacies.

Famous Works of the Patrons

Renaissance art is full of works that only exist because of powerful patrons. Most famous of all of these was Cosimo de' Medici, head of the Medici banking family and de facto ruler of Florence. Cosimo was one of the first to truly embrace artistic patronage as a way to both guarantee his own legacy and to honor the Church, since he mostly commissioned art for major churches. Under Cosimo's patronage, Michelozzi designed the famous Palazzo Medici, Gozzoli painted the Magi Chapel, Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi painted their Adoration of the Magi, Donatello and Verrocchio both cast sculptures of David, and the Medici wealth even supported Brunelleschi as he designed his famous Dome of the Florence Cathedral.

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