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Art Markets in Europe, 1400-1800.

Michael North and David Ormrod, eds., Art Markets in Europe, 1400-1800

Aldershot and Brookfleld, VT: Ashgate, 1998. xi + 250 pp. $83.95. ISBN: 1-8401-630-3.

Eckart Marchand and Alison Wright, eds., With and Without the Medici: Studies in Tuscan Art and Patronage 1434-1530

Aldershot and Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1998. xiv + 187 pp. $84.95. ISBN: 1-85928-423-X.

One of the most marked developments of the last quarter century in the fields of Renaissance and Baroque art history has been the rising interest in the circumstances surrounding the production and consumption of art. Social, economic, and art historians who have chosen to focus on these dimensions have broadened the boundaries of the discipline to encompass images and objects outside of the traditional triad of painting, sculpture, and architecture; expanded the types of evidence used to discuss art and artists; highlighted the social and cultural functions of art; and elucidated the role played by market forces, such as pressures for innovation, efficiency, and quality, in the production, distribution, collection, and evaluation of images. Furthermore, these studies have drawn attention to the ways in which the broader economic and social community influenced the manner in which the men and women who produced art made a living, offering an alternative to the concept of the isolated, canonically masculine, genius. Two collections of essays recently published by Ashgate touch on these concepts.

The papers gathered together by Michael North and David Ormrod in Art Markets in Europe, 1400-1800 were generated by a conference of economic and art historians held in 1997 at the Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universitat, Greifswald, Germany. The scope of the resulting collection is remarkably broad, both chronologically and geographically. Subjects range from Wim Blockman's discussion of the character of Philip the Good's manuscript patronage and the broader structure and distribution of manuscript production in Burgundy and the Low Countries in the mid-fifteenth century to Jan von Bonsdorff's proposal that the appearance of three large, late-fifteenth-century carved German polychrome altarpieces in the Trondenes Church, Vesteralen, Norway, can be used as a means of gauging local wealth; and from Volker Reinhart's analysis of the impact of papal nepotism on the development of an open, independent art market in Rome during the seventeenth century to Thomas Ketelsen's examination of eighteenth-century German auction c atalogues. Some of the essays, such as Marie-Tere Alvarez's discussion of Spanish art patronage during the reign of Isabel of Castile (1474-1504) and Guido Guerzoni's consideration of mechanisms of art production and collecting at the Este court in Ferrara from the reign of Ercole I d'Este to that of Alfonso II, are not as fully developed as one might wish, but several others stand out as particularly provocative. Among the latter are three essays which deal with the ways in which prices for paintings were established in the Low Countries and France in the seventeenth century, and two which examine public auctions and the marketing of art in late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England. Martin Jan Bok's discussion of the scale of production of paintings in the Netherlands during the seventeenth-century addresses the issue of pricing, concluding that labor, scale, and complexity were the principal determining factors. Bok's article is especially valuable for its wide variety of primary sources, including w orkshop notebooks, account books, probate inventories, stock books, collectors' catalogues, and deeds of sale. In another essay Neil De Marchi, Hans Van Miegroet, and Matthew Raiff focus on the relationship between two dealers, Matthijs Musson, based in Antwerp, and Jean-Michel Picart, located in Paris. Using surviving correspondence, contracts, account books, and shipping records, these authors examine how the nature and success of the association of these two art dealers depended on Picart's knowledge of the economics of the Parisian art market and the specific desires and limitations of his clientele and Musson's trust in the reliability of his agent and desire to maximize profits. This article applies contemporary ideas about the workings of long distance markers and agency to an historical situation. Antoine Schnapper's essay considers the reliability of probate inventories as a measure of marker prices in seventeenth-century Paris. In his article, Schnapper exposes a game of cat-and-mouse played out bet ween heirs and government officials over the taxation of estates and auctioned goods. As one might expect, heirs and sellers tended to underestimate the value of works of art, while government agents tried to compensate by adding a fixed premium to the proposed value, suggesting that inventories per se represented very imperfect measures of value.

In one of the essays dealing with the evaluation of British art, Brian Cowan characterizes the British art marker as a form of social theater. He illustrates the role that connoisseurship and the desire of British gentlemen to demonstrate their expertise played in the rise of art auctions in eighteenth-century England. David Ormrod's article is a sweeping and well argued consideration of the factors that led to the emergence of a London art market at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In particular, he argues that the change resulted from a much more complex set of causes than the usual explanation based on the relaxation of import controls and taxes. Maxime Berg and Helen Clifford and Marcia Poinron also deal with the world of British art. Berg and Clifford discuss the imagery and style of early trade cards and catalogues, objects well outside the normal definition of art. Using the collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the authors trace the changing strategies of commercial representation and presentation, revealing that in a very modern fashion these images were directed towards linking consumer goods with the larger social values of taste and status. The volume concludes with Pointon's essay about the significance of display, as manifested in the accumulation and wearing of expensive jewelry, for eighteenth-century English and French courtly and popular culture. Though somewhat marred by a propensity for theory-speak, and certainly not about "art" in the traditional sense, Pointon's contribution is, nonetheless, an engaging tale of politics, corruption, and desire.

The chronological and geographical scope of With and Without the Medici: Studies in Tuscan Art and Patronage 1434-1530 is considerably more restricted than Art Markets in Europe. The individual papers grew out of a "study day" at the Warburg Institute in May 1996. The volume begins with a very useful historical review of the contemporary literature dealing with art patronage, in general, and Florentine and Medicean patronage, in particular. Although Alison Wright and Eckart Marchand's references refer primarily to Florentine material and draw almost exclusively on English-language sources, the chapter still could serve as a concise bibliographic introduction to the state of Italian Renaissance patronage studies at the end of the twentieth century. The other essays in this volume cover a range of Tuscan topics and media. Amanda Lille discusses the relationship of rural chapels to Tuscan villas in the fifteenth century. She develops a taxonomy of the ecclesiastical structures on the basis of each chapel's phys ical relationship to the villa proper and the degree of public access allowed to the space. Although convenience may have been an important consideration in the construction of villa chapels, Lille also concludes that the ecclesiastical aspirations of the patrons may have occasionally determined the type and location of private chapels in both urban and rural palace designs. Alison Wright's article is also concerned with a rural topic: Antonio Pollaiuolo's enigmatic dancing nudes in the Lanfredini Villa at Arcetri. Wright agrees with previous authors that these figures reflect a combination of northern and classical sources. However, she concludes that, contrary to earlier readings of the cycle, there was probably no specific moral program behind the images. Instead, she sees them as reflecting both the latitude allowed in villa decoration and a desire to display artistic skill. Wright also suggests that the selection of Pollaiuolo by the Lanfredini may have had political implications as an assertion of the f amily's affiliation with the Medici. Ruth Rubenstein takes us more directly into the Medici household, discussing the form and history of three representations of Marsyas owned by the family: two life-size marble figures and the famous ancient cornelian of Apollo, Marsyas, and Olympus, today in Naples. She reviews a variety of ancient and late medieval interpretations of the story of Apollo and Marsyas in an attempt to discover what meanings these figures might have had for Lorenzo de' Medici. Perhaps the most interesting tradition she discusses is the one that appears in Boccaccio and in the writings of Giovanni Nesi, a humanist in the circle of Marsilio Ficino. In this tradition, Marsyas symbolizes the principle of liberty and a free city. Rubenstein finds this an unlikely interpretation of the two bound figures of Marsyas from the Medici palace garden. However, given the fact that Donatello's David and Judith and Holofernes adorned the same space, such an interpretation of the Marsyas figures should probab ly not be dismissed out of hand.

Eckart Marchand's essay examines the representation of "patrons, their families and allies" in a small group of Quattrocento frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli and Domenico Ghirlandaio. Marchand suggests that particulars of pose, placement, and costume would have allowed contemporary viewers not only to differentiate between intentional, identifiable portraits and casual bystanders, but also to gather more specific social information. In the Florentine Sassetti and Tornabuoni chapel frescoes, the author sees the contemporary observers playing a more active role than in the two earlier examples from San Gimignano. Marchand hypothesizes that this change in strategy may have been intended as a statement by the families that "their social leadership and the political leadership of the Medici ... were blessed by God," a conclusion that goes beyond the evidence offered by the images and that would therefore have been more convincing had written or visual sources been cited in its support. Kate Lowe's essay treats the now fashionable topic of female conventual patronage. In particular, she is interested in two questions: how active were the Medici as patrons of conventual art, and to what extent did nuns control the art that was produced for and displayed in their convents? Basing her conclusions on a survey of works given to or commissioned for or by twelve Florentine convents, Lowe found that the Medici seemed to be fairly active patrons of convents, contributing to foundations not only in their own parish, but throughout the city of Florence. These acts of charity and artistic patronage were viewed as signs of familial piety and status. In respect to the actual role of nuns in the appearance and content of the art produced for their convents, Lowe discerns a fairly wide range of patronage patterns, from examples where the nuns appear to have exercised rather careful control, to other instances in which the suore seem simply to have been the recipients of others' generosity. More interesting, perhaps, are Lowe's observation s regarding the mechanisms by which conventual choices were made. She suggests that a good network of communications among convents of the same order allowed for the exchange of information about artists, and that some artists seem to have been preferred by convents. It would be valuable to delve a bit further into both of these observations. Lowe concedes that the general topic of conventual patronage remains remarkably open. The final essay in the volume, by Michelle O'Malley, focuses on changes which occurred in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries in the standard contractual stipulation that artists execute commissioned works "with their own hand." O'Malley suggests that these changes not only reflected a growing appreciation of artists' individuality and skill -- a phenomenon observed by Michael Baxandall almost fifteen years ago -- but also that patrons might temper their desire to have a work by a particular master in light of the realities of the realities of workshop practices, particular ly as they effected the manner in which famous, high-demand artists were able to fulfill their contracts. Finally O'Malley observes that within a workshop system, a painter's skill could be manifested in three ways: design, execution, and control over production, and that all three of these played a role in the concept of the master's "hand."
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:ROSENBERG, CHARLES M.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2000
Words:2012
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