Art and visual culture: Medieval to modern
Art and visual culture: Medieval to modern

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Art and visual culture: Medieval to modern

Artists and patrons

Just as antiquity provided a model for the status of painting, so it provided a model for the relationship between illustrious patron and artist. Pliny described the esteem in which Alexander the Great held the painter Apelles, visiting his studio, allowing him liberties and even passing on to him his mistress (Edwards, 1999, p. 99). In 1549, the Italian sculptor Leone Leoni mentions in a letter that the Emperor Charles V visited his studio and spent two to three hours at a time chatting with him (Lymberopoulou et al., 2012, p. 89 and Plon, 1887, pp. 45–7). The familiar relationship between artist and ruler by this date is symptomatic on the one hand of the degree to which antique role models were taken to heart and on the other the degree to which artists had made the transition from jobbing craftsmen to respected court employees. Whether Netherlandish ruler Philip the Good could have been aware of the precedent of Apelles and Alexander the Great when he visited the Bruges workshop of his court painter Jan van Eyck almost a century earlier in 1432 is unclear, but it demonstrates that Philip too was on familiar terms with his court painter and keenly interested in van Eyck’s work (Paviot, 1990, p. 88).

Famously, in 1516, the renowned Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was invited to the French court of Francis I (ruled 1515–47), perhaps not so much for the work that he might produce at what was then an advanced age, as out of admiration and presumably for the prestige that the presence of such a renowned figure might endow on the French court. The advancement of artistic status is often associated with princely employment, for example by Martin Warnke in his seminal study of the court artist (Warnke, 1993, pp. 33–45). Given the example of Leonardo da Vinci, this appears to make sense. Maintained on a salary, a court artist was no longer a jobbing craftsman constantly on the lookout for work. Potentially, at least, he had access to projects demanding inventiveness and conferring honour, and time to lavish on his art and on study. Equally, however, court artists might be required to undertake mundane and routine work which they could not very well refuse. Court salaries were also often in arrears or not paid at all. In the same letter in which Leone Leoni described Charles V chatting with him for two to three hours at a time, he complains of his poverty, while carefully qualifying the complaint by claiming he serves the emperor for honour and cares for studying not moneymaking. The lot of the court artist might appear to fulfil aspirations for artistic status, but it certainly had its drawbacks.

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