Hope Greenberg
History 300
Daily Question: July 22, 1993

1) The first group of sources in Bartlett sheds light on various aspects of the patron-artist relationship during the Renaissance. What insights into this relationship did you derive from the sources?

"The enclosed paper, and the thread wound round it together give the length of the largest figure on Master Andrea Mantegna's picture, beside which yours will hang." Thus Isabelle d'Este sets about her interior decorating. Her correspondence with Perugino provides us with a fascinating glimpse into the Renaissance world of artist and patron. The opening paragraph of the commission calls Perugino "contractor." Now, while this is obviously a simple translation of the word describing the person signing the contract, it presents an interesting perspective on the artist's role if we consider the term in its more recent definition as a person who organizes and carries out the building plans of another. Like our modern day contractor, Perugino is given detailed instructions as to the contents of the work he is to do. Isabelle is far from saying "give me a picture so-and-so large of such-and-such colors to fill that blank space on my wall over there next to the Mantegna". On the contrary, hers is the conception, hers the design. One almost gets the sense that if she could paint the thing herself she would do so. Despite the fact that he is a well-known, well-respected artist (consider the reference to him as Lord Pietro) he is still, in this case, the craftsman.

While I shall not elaborate on how her subject reflects her obvious humanist education with its interest in classical mythological themes, or how Perugino's concern about the size of the figures reflects his age's preoccupation with proportion and balance, I would like to call attention to the terms of the contract. D'Este seems to want assurance that Perugino will do the actual work ("complete said work himself"), an indication that the practice of sharing out work among the assistants was not uncommon. What appears to be a standard clause dealing with the payment for a work in progress in the event of the artist's demise is also interesting, pointing out, as it does, the importance of family relationships in any business.

This idea that heirs might be responsible for work contracted is also seen in the contract between Pinturicchio and his ecclesiastical patron. In this case, Pinturichio is more closely bound to the work, agreeing to "not undertake any other work....which may cause the decoration...to be postponed." Also, the importance of the artists doing certain portions of the work "in his own hand" is also stressed. This contract provides lodging but not board for the artist. While this contract is much more constraining in terms of working conditions than that between d'Este and Perugino, it allows the artist much more freedom in determining the content of the work. He is "obliged to render the ceiling...with fantasies and colors...as lovely, beautiful and sumptuous as he judges best." While he is told to paint certain stories of the life of Pope Pius, the details are certainly not as exact as those to Perugino.

The documents relating to the famous competition for the baptistery doors provides a look at the artist/patron relationship where the patron is a civic body. Providing two, shall we say, slightly different viewpoints of the competition, the selections, nevertheless, give evidence that public art was a hotly debated, consumingly interesting topic for the inhabitants of the city.

2) According to Alberti, what role does intellectual training play in the process of artistic creation?

In Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy provides us with his rather lengthy definition of the accomplished woman, saying that he knows several. Elizabeth Bennet responds by expressing surprise that he knows any, such are the range and number of skills he considers essential. Alberti, in work on painting and sculpture, pre-dates Jane Austin by over 200 years, but has no fewer expectations of the educational and intellectual requirements of an artist than has Mr. Darcy of the accomplished woman.

After explaining the technical details of perspective and decrying the failure in this area on the part of artists of the past, and praising the "entirely new way" artists approach their work in his time, he sets about explaining the importance of the intellectual development of the artist. The painter should be "learned in all the liberal arts" with a "good knowledge of geometry." He should also "take pleasure in poets and orators" while diligently studying Nature. The architect is given a slightly shorter list of requirements, no doubt because it is painting that "possesses a truly divine power."

However, Alberti does provide compelling arguments to support his expectations. A knowledge of geometry will help him with perspective and balance. A knowledge of "historia" will provide him with inspiration for creation and "inventions." The study of nature will provide concrete examples for imitation. And the process of study itself will train the artist to be patient, discerning and careful to completely develop his work.

(Just couldn't resist commenting on Alberti's assumption that people are drawn to well-known faces in paintings because they are drawn from nature: "the face that is known draws the eyes" etc. because it is drawn from Nature which is irresistable. Wonder how he would describe the TV news, National Enquirer, etc.)

This file is part of Hope Greenberg's Graduate Portfolio for the course History 300. Created 15 October 1996.