The Status of Artists in Renaissance Society

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  • 0:08 Celebrity
  • 1:15 Artistic Training
  • 2:48 Life as an Artist
  • 5:11 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 and status of artists during the Renaissance and discover how artists achieved this status and what was expected of them. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.


Everyone has a favorite celebrity. For me, it's Groucho Marx. I just can't get enough of that guy. Celebrities play an important role in a culture, from providing a model of social perfection to representing cultural values for foreign groups. In America, we love our celebrities, but we are far from the first culture to have them. Every culture had some sort of celebrity. Renaissance Italy was no exception.

The Renaissance was a period from the late 14th century through the 16th century, characterized by political competition, religious fervor, intellectual sophistication, and an immense amount of artistic production. For the people of the Renaissance, there were few greater celebrities than artists. Artists carried a special status in Renaissance society. They were respected; they were admired; they were practically worshiped. Can you even imagine what that was like? Well, you don't have to! Today, we are going to make you a Renaissance artist!

Artistic Training

Grab some paint and brushes; you are now an artist in the Italian Renaissance. Well, you're an artist-in-training. The first step as any artist is to get a position as a student in the workshop of an established artist. The master, the artist who runs the studio, trains the apprentices in that style of art, be it sculpture, painting, architecture, or goldsmithing. Your future success as an artist, as well as your reputation, are largely based on the reputation of the master who trains you. We are putting you underneath the tutelage of a very famous artist. As his apprentice, you will work many long hours, mostly working on details of the master's work, adding finishing touches.

Your success as an artist will depend on your artistic training, but also on other aspects of your education. The Renaissance was a period of high intellectual pursuits. People read the classic works of ancient Greece and Rome, wrote poetry, studied math and science, debated philosophy, and discussed theology. Artists are seen as the greatest of intellectuals, and your artwork is supposed to contain multiple layers of symbolism that reflect your understanding of philosophy, politics, and religion. In a society of educated people, your ability to think intellectually is central to achieving famed status as an artist.

Life as an Artist

Well, you did it! You spent long nights finishing the works of a master, you studied the philosophies and sciences, and you have developed your skill enough to graduate from an apprentice to a master. You are now an artist! Now, you need to find work. Artists of the Renaissance are often employed by the courts of local princes and lords. Places like Italy are not yet nations, but instead a series of city-states, local, independent governments based around a city. You are living in the most famous art center of Italy, Florence, and because you are so skilled, you are hired as the court painter of the Medici family. The Medici are the wealthiest family of Florence and some of the greatest patrons of art in the world.

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