The Influence of Patrons in 15th-Century Northern European & Spanish Art

The Influence of Patrons in 15th-Century Northern European & Spanish Art
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  • 0:00 Patrons of Art
  • 0:40 Middle-Class Patrons
  • 1:30 Wealthier Patrons
  • 2:36 The Wealthiest Patrons
  • 3:45 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 relationship between patron and artist in the creation of art during the 15th century in Northern Europe. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Patrons of Art

Today, we are going to watch something exciting. We are witnessing the creation of an artist. There he is; that's our artist. Hello!

Graphic of an artist

Now, this is no ordinary artist, he is an artist of Northern Europe in the 15th century. And that is going to be important. Why? As an artist in the 15th century, our artist relies on patrons, people who commission the artist to create works of art. This means that he is not simply creating art however he wants; it needs to reflect the needs of the patron. Say the patron doesn't like the color blue. Well, artist, repaint this without the color blue. This is life as an artist in the 15th century.

Middle-Class Patrons in Northern Europe

Our artist is currently in Bruges, the wealthiest city of Northern Europe. It is located in Flanders, modern-day Belgium, and is under the control of the powerful Dukes of Burgundy. Now, Bruges is very wealthy from international trade and banking, and this will have important implications for our artist because wealthy places have more people who can afford art. Let's start with the average citizen.

As a wealthy trading city, Bruges is one of the few places in Europe to have a strong middle class. These people like art but can't afford large or personalized pieces of art. So, our artist has a series of cheap images called Tüchlein, painted on cloth, that people can buy. These paintings generally display religious scenes since this is a very religious culture.

Wealthier Patrons in Northern Europe

For the more affluent citizens, the artist has pre-made images painted onto wood panels, again, generally depicting religious scenes. But this fellow doesn't look like he's interested in a general panel. He is a merchant, rich from his work in international trade that runs through Bruges. He is deeply religious and wants a devotional altarpiece. These are very, very popular in Northern Europe. It is a small altarpiece that can be folded up and transported. Whenever the merchant prays or reads his bible, it will help him reflect on the scriptures.

Wealthier patrons could afford to commission art
Graphic of a European patron

Being a very traditional merchant, he wants a very traditional devotional altarpiece. This means it will be a diptych, composed of two panels. On one side, he wants an image of the Virgin Mary and Christ, the most common subject in Northern Europe, and on the other side he wants a portrait of himself praying. He also wants it completed with oil paints and full of symbolism to put him in an intellectual, reflective mindset while praying. In other words, this patron wants a very traditional devotional altarpiece.

The Wealthiest Patrons

Now, our artist is doing very well for himself. He has bought a shop and is famous enough that he can advertise pre-made pieces in the window for people to come in and buy. He is doing so well that he attracts the attention of the wealthiest patrons of Northern Europe. He may have hopes of painting for the Dukes of Burgundy themselves; they're known to often commission art. But today, he receives a commission from the wealthiest banker in Bruges.

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