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The Role of Patrons in 16th-Century Art & Architecture

The Role of Patrons in 16th-Century Art & Architecture
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  • 0:02 Patrons of the 16th Century
  • 0:36 Italian Patrons in the…
  • 2:38 Patrons Across Europe
  • 5:09 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, we'll examine the influence of art patrons across Europe in the 16th century. We'll discover how they helped develop a lasting culture of art during this time.

Patrons of the 16th Century

You know something - we talk a lot about artists, but how about a round of applause for those patrons. I mean, without people who are willing to commission and pay for art, art history would be a lot different - and by a lot different, I mean practically nonexistent. So, we owe a lot to the great patrons of art. Europe in the 16th century was one of those times when art was flourishing, and it really came back to the wealthy and powerful people with an appreciation for great art. So, what do you say? Let's go and meet some patrons, and give them a big ol' thanks!

Italian Patrons in the 16th Century

We're starting with Italy because the patron had already been an important part of society for a few centuries throughout the entire Italian Renaissance. By the early 16th century, Italian masters had perfected the techniques, styles, and goals of Renaissance art, introducing an era that we call the High Renaissance, which lasted from roughly 1495 to 1520. The greatest masters worked in this time, and they were commissioned by some of the greatest patrons of art to ever live - like this guy, Pope Julius II.

art patron

Pope Julius brought the role of the Church in commissioning art to its height.

Under Julius' patronage, Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, Raphael painted the Stanze della Segnatura, and Bramante designed the version of the new Saint Peter's Basilica. These are three of the most important works of art and architecture in the history of art, so thank you Pope Julius II! Like many patrons of the time, Julius was motivated by a mixture of vanity, pride, passion for the arts, and religious piety, and was even known to threaten artists if the work was not completed on time. But hey, his persistence sure paid off.

Now, Italy in the 16th century was not solely dedicated to the High Renaissance. After the death of Raphael in 1520, Renaissance styles continued, but moved away from the strict perfection of the High Renaissance. Late Renaissance art, which lasted from roughly 1520 to 1600, was mostly supported by the city of Venice, which had just recently built itself into an art city on the scale of Florence.

The city of Venice hired painters, sculptors, and architects, as did private patrons, to fill the city with art. This is the Madonna of the Pesaro Family, a religious piece that the Pesaro family commissioned to the master of Venice, Titian. As was typical of all Renaissance painting, the patron was included in the piece. In the bottom right corner, there's the Pesaro family, kneeling in devout prayer.

art patron

Patrons Across Europe

Italy was not the only place creating art in the 16th century, so naturally it wasn't the only place with patrons. Art was thriving all across Europe. In Germany, then part of the Holy Roman Empire, printmaking was really rising for the first time as a major art form. Albrecht Dürer was the artist primarily responsible for this, introducing Renaissance techniques into printmaking for the first time. But the success of this new medium was also a result of patronage practices.

In Northern Europe, prints first became widely popular because they were affordable, and this region had a large middle class with expendable income. These people bought a lot of prints, giving printmakers the fame and freedom to develop their art. However, the rise of major printmakers, like Dürer, was also thanks to wealthy patrons, who were willing to pay a lot of money for a print, which was not really considered high art until the mid-15th to early-16th centuries. These patrons recognized the genius of the printmakers, and Dürer actually ended up being the first non-Italian artist of the century to become genuinely famous on an international scale.

The last stop on our tour of Europe is going to be Spain. Spain did not have a major role in European art before the 16th century because it was pretty unstable and had been fighting African Islamic armies for control of the peninsula. But in the 16th century, Spain became the center of the largest empire of the day, covering much of Europe as well as Latin and South America.

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