Social Identity and the Visual Arts in Renaissance Florence
Social Identity and the Visual Arts in Renaissance Florence
“No one writing about Florentine and Italian art history will be able to ignore this elegant and probing book.”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
Changing Patrons combines visual analysis with history and anthropology to propose new interpretations of the art created by, among others, Botticelli, Filippino Lippi, and Raphael. Genuinely interdisciplinary, the book also casts light on broad issues of identity, power relations, and the visual arts in Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance.
“No one writing about Florentine and Italian art history will be able to ignore this elegant and probing book.”
“Probing, concise and grounded in extensive research, Jill Burke’s Changing Patrons: Social Identity and the Visual Arts in Renaissance Florence is a major study in the current vein. . . . Drawing continually on archival documents, Burke does a masterly job of tracking the ascent of her two families, particularly as seen in the fortunes of their palazzo and religious commissions. Seldom have the ties between social identities and art of display objects been so convincingly shown.”
“Burke's lucidly argued and well researched study proves to be a thought-provoking read whose significance goes well beyond a circle of readers interested in the study of patronage in Quattrocento Florence.”
“The great strengths of Changing Patrons are Burke’s archival research into the Nasi and Del Pugliese families and her willingness to examine this research from a broad societal perspective. . . . It is well researched and well informed and both broadens our knowledge of specific examples of Florentine patronage and studies these examples in new ways. . . . Burke should be praised for both indicating and demonstrating how ideas about artistic patronage might be reframed.”
“Lucid explanations of artists’ contracts and the patronage of family chapels and building committees make Jill Burke’s first book an extremely useful introduction to ‘how the fifteenth-century [Florentine] patron could use paintings, sculptures, and buildings to mediate relationships with the wider world’ (p.189), and her thoughtful, often controversial, interpretations provide material for reflection.”
“The study of patronage in Renaissance Florence has a rich history over the past half a century and Changing Patrons by Jill Burke provides a welcome new chapter. Her succinct historiographical introduction will surely provide essential reading not only for those wishing to work in this specific area but also for any student of Renaissance Florence.”
Jill Burke is AHRB Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Art History Department, University of Edinburgh. In 2000–2001, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.
List of Illustrations
A Note on Transcriptions and Translations
Part I: Families, Neighbors, and Friends
1. Family Self-Fashioning
2. Private Wealth and Public Benefit: The Nasi and Del Pugliese Palaces
3. Family, Church, Community: The Appearance of Power in Santo Spirito
4. Patronage and the Art of Friendship: Piero del Pugliese's Patronage of Filippino Lippi
Part II: The Individual, the Family, and the Church
5. Patronage Rights and Wrongs: Building Identity at Santa Maria a Lecceto
6. Framing Patronage: Beauty and Order at the Church of the Innocenti
7. Differing Visions: Image and Audience in the Florentine Church
Part III: Identity and Change
8. Painted Prayers: Savonarola and the Audience of Images
Conclusions and Questions
Nasi Family Tree
Del Pugliese Family Tree
Poems Written About the Portrait of Piero del Pugliese by Filippino Lippi
This project began as a study of art patrons. I chose two Florentine families to concentrate on, the Nasi and Del Pugliese, and after some initial research in London, went to the Florentine archives to find out what I could to help interpret the paintings, sculpture, and buildings that they paid for during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. This archival work made me rethink my whole project. If, as historians, we ideally read the documents until they start talking, I found that the documents were not talking about the kind of art I was then interested in. Church documents talked about patronage rights, coats of arms, and liturgical duties. Notarial documents talked about land transactions and business deals; wills contained many instructions about bequests to family members and churches and very few references to paintings; inventories listed used handkerchiefs and old sheets in loving detail but were reticent in their descriptions of cassoni and domestic religious painting and sculpture. I started to feel as if I were looking for a needle in a haystack. It was then that I started to look at the haystack;to find that it was just as rewarding a subject for study.
So what is this book about? It still looks at the Nasi and Del Pugliese families and uses archival research to illuminate their purchase and commission of a variety of display objects over the latter part of the fifteenth century. Yet it is no more just about two Florentine families than Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms is just about an eccentric miller from a village in Friuli.
Applying methodology taken from the study of mentalities, anthropology, and social history to both visual and verbal sources, this study considers the range of social personae open to the Florentine patrician at this time and how these could be created and expressed through the visual arts. Through these means, it seeks to reach more general conclusions about the role played by nonverbal culture in the formation of social identity and status in Florence during the Renaissance. Along the way, I consider how the role of art patron was, in itself, an identity that was created during this period.
The case studies that form the basis for my analysis are largely founded on original archival research into the history of the two families. It also engages with the scholarship of many historians and art historians who have been researching the history of Renaissance Florence for many years. My particular debts are mentioned in the notes to the text. Here, I would like to discuss some of the literature, about both art patronage and society in Renaissance Italy, that suggested possible avenues of investigation.
Terminology and Chronology
Threaded through this book is the involvement that both families had with Renaissance culture. The archival work of social historians from the late 1960s on;such as Gene Brucker, Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Dale Kent, F. W. Kent, Anthony Molho, Richard Trexler, and Ronald Weissman;did much to revolutionize our view of the Florentine Renaissance. Moving away from previously influential Burckhardtian concepts, which characterized this period as a stark watershed between the medieval and modern worlds, the historiography tended to stress the continuity of social forms previously considered medieval. Neighborhood, friendship, and extended kinship ties were deemed not only to survive through the Renaissance but to be of key importance to our understanding of Florence and its cultural products. The building and decoration of family chapels could thus be seen as a form of ancestor worship, and the grand family palace a focus for pride for the extended clan;even for those who did not reside in it. Similarly, the idea that society became secularized owing to an increased interest in classical culture was questioned. The importance of Christian ritual and religious confraternities in shaping the tenor of everyday life, not just in Florence but in all of Europe during the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, is now clear.
This model of continuity has been rightly influential and tenacious. Indeed, the use of the word Renaissance in describing the period as a whole has itself been questioned, the logic being that the term would be more accurately used to refer solely to an influential set of cultural values stressing the revival of ancient culture, and fashionable among the elite. Notably, the tendency to go straight from Late Medieval to Early Modern is something that historians have taken up far more widely than art historians. This, in itself, speaks to a sense of disjunction between the two disciplines that remains a site of intellectual negotiation. The primary sources of traditional Renaissance art history;paintings, sculpture, and architecture;often seemed to argue against the findings of the social historians: the rise of independent panel and sculpted portraiture could be seen to suggest the importance of the individual, the widespread adoption of stylistic classical motifs, and new subject matter taken from ancient Roman and Greek sources could be interpreted as posing a strong challenge to the Christian spirituality of the Middle Ages.
The challenge for scholars is to gain an insight into the period under question through these differences, rather than put them down to disciplinary conflict. The sense that the Renaissance happened in visual culture has to be linked to a changing social world and indeed is now usefully being employed to nuance and complicate the picture painted by social historians of the 1970s and 1980s. For example, the selection of essays in a volume recently edited by Patricia Rubin and Giovanni Ciappelli brings together new work by Renaissance scholars to reconsider the relationship between family identity and visual culture during the quattrocento. Some scholars have concentrated on broadening their scope of inquiry to include objects;the minor or low arts such as clothing, pottery, or furniture;that are not in the traditional purview of art historians. Art historians such as Evelyn Welch have pointed out that the new forms of painted and sculpted object available for purchase in the fifteenth century represent only a small fraction of the empire of things newly available to the consumer. Culture can be expressed and refracted through spoons, sleeves, and salvers as much as it is through altarpieces or public statuary. Through considering such objects, Luke Syson and Dora Thornton have recently questioned the dominant model of historical continuity by arguing that the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries saw the creation of new;or newly interpreted;behavioral models derived from contemporary interpretations of classical texts. Stories illustrating these texts were broadly diffused through such varied objects as crockery, cutlery, clothing, and jewelry boxes.
From the other side of the disciplinary divide, Dale Kent, through research on hundreds of fifteenth-century Florentine zibaldone and accounts of public performance, has shown that an appreciation of products of the new learning was not confined to a small literary elite; she argues that many Florentines of a much lower social status took part in and, concomitantly, created a common culture. This culture allowed a broad audience to appreciate the new style of artworks commissioned by their social superiors. The present trend in the historiography, therefore, seems to be toward a reemergence of the Renaissance as a meaningful idea to a large section of the population.
Because my inquiry focuses on the people who purchased and owned display objects as opposed to those who made them, I was forced to consider how their production of art related to social mores. In this work, I hope to contribute to this reevaluation of the relationship between consumer and producer, and between the visual arts and social change. First, though, it is important to consider the concept of art patronage and how it has affected our interpretation of the artworks produced during the fifteenth century.
Patronage and Art
The study of patronage in its various guises remains a vibrant area of research. It is now virtually undisputed that social patronage (clientelismo), intersecting with the social trinity of family, friends, and neighbors, fueled the engine of the Florentine social and political machine during the fifteenth century. In this usage patronage is defined as a long-term relationship between patron and client, where the patron holds the lion’s share of power or resources. Patronage has a moral and social rather than a legal basis, and the patron is expected to provide favors, mediation, and possible access to wider friendship and patronage networks for the client in return for loyalty.
The interest in a patronage system by social historians has been matched by the emphasis on placing art in context, which by the end of the twentieth century became the norm in Anglo-American art historical scholarship. Studying the person (or people) who commissioned an artwork seems a relatively straightforward way of supplying the context in which that object was made. Renaissance survey courses now typically include the study of art patronage in some form. An Open University course book for its interdisciplinary Renaissance unit, for example, makes claims for the importance of studying patronage as the patron would naturally pay close attention to the development of any commissioned work and expect to participate in the creative process as an active collaborator. Even a more traditional art historical survey, Frederick Hartt’s History of Italian Renaissance Art, now includes the name of the patron in the captions to illustrations because although some patrons are today no more than a name, even the name serves as a reminder of the formative and essential role that the patron so often played in the creation of a Renaissance work of art.
In the mid-1980s Gary Ianziti pointed out that the idea of art patronage fits uncomfortably with the notion of patronage as a social system favored as an explanatory model by many historians. Of course, artists and the people who bought their work could be involved in a patron-client relationship in the strict sense of the word. I discuss one such relationship;that between the wool merchant Piero del Pugliese and the painter Filippino Lippi;later in this study. There are also a number of reconstructions of the patronage networks surrounding some artists that have provided a useful insight into their social world. However, as I discuss throughout this book, it seems likely that most of the huge range of painted and sculpted objects that were made in the Renaissance were not the fruits of such a close and lasting rapport any more than most other consumable goods, and many patrons would better be described as purchasers.
The terminology used by scholars here is crucial. To separate the concepts of social and art patronage, the use of the modern Italian terms clientelismo and mecenatismo (patronage of the arts) has been suggested. This, unfortunately, is an unsatisfactory solution, largely because these words were not used in the Renaissance and do not accurately reflect a contemporary understanding of either process. Indeed, the fact of chronological change and the wish to avoid anachronism are at the heart of the problem. It is now generally accepted by art historians that the notion of "artist" was being developed through the quattrocento, as painters and sculptors experienced a rise in status from artisans to auteurs. By the early sixteenth century, it seems that Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo could gain an aura of being almost outside normal social delineation by virtue of their particular visionary powers. The notion of the art patron and his or her place in society are greatly dependent on the notion of the artist and of art, the latter a term that had no equivalent in fifteenth-century Italy. The term art patronage implies a relationship, not between purchaser and practitioner, but between enlightened individual and the development of visual art. In this essentially more modern usage, it is art, an abstract concept, that is being patronized, not the person who makes the art. I approached my material with the assumption that art patronage as we understand it today was not a notion that was widely current in the period. Rather, it was part of the changes inherent in the development of Renaissance culture that created and eventually codified our ideas of what art patronage means.
A number of scholars have pointed out that the motivations behind the purchase of the visual arts is a process with a historical dynamic of its own. Martin Wackernagel, in his groundbreaking Der Lebensraum des Künstlers in der florentinischen Renaissance, noted the transition from the donor of the later quattrocento to the patron of the High Renaissance, when collecting paintings with passion for their aesthetic value became more widespread. E. H. Gombrich stated his debt to Wackernagel in his essay The Early Medici as Patrons of Art, suggesting that a deliberate patronage of 'art’ . . . is impossible without the idea of 'art.’ Tracing the development through analysis of the patronage of Cosimo and Lorenzo de’ Medici, Gombrich suggests that the donor is transformed to connoisseur in a mental shift that is perhaps implicitly modeled on the second and third ages of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists. More recently, R. S. Lopez has suggested that the ethos of art patronage in the Middle Ages was collective, whereas in the Renaissance it was characterized by a direct relationship between donor and the men of culture, and most of all is used to celebrate the patron.
Although my conclusions may differ, the main thrust of these scholars’ arguments;that the notion of art patronage, like the notion of art, is historically specific and operates within a distinct set of cultural values;was crucial to my approach. For these reasons, I have endeavored throughout to be careful in my use of language. I sometimes use the word artwork to describe painted and sculpted objects, but I do not employ the abstract concept of artist or art to indicate painters or sculptors and the objects they made. Concomitantly, I only use the word patron in its anthropological sense, that is, when it applies to a long-term relationship of mutual benefit between two parties, rather than simply the purchaser of a painting or sculpture. It is worth the occasional awkwardness of expression to put distance between ourselves and these problematic concepts.
The Patron as Artist
The concept that the creation of an artwork involved two main figures, the patron and the artist, has affected our understanding of the visual arts for around a century. Aby Warburg claimed in 1902: It is one of the cardinal facts of early Renaissance civilization in Florence that works of art owed their making to the mutual understanding between patrons and artists. They were, from the outset, the results of a negotiation between client and executant.
The idea that the patron not only provided money for a display object but also actively contributed to its form has become an assumption crucial to many analytical approaches to Renaissance art over the last century. The logical conclusion from Warburg’s assertion is that finding biographical details about the patron allows for a partial reconstruction of the circumstances in which works of art were made. The underlying reason for this reconstruction is that it allows the scholar to understand the meaning of these works. This approach concentrates on a re-creation of the artwork through the art historian’s narrative, with the work itself always the point of culmination.
This idea has been used in various ways. The most obvious has been in monographic studies of individual patrons or artists. For Florence of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries there have been many studies of the art patronage of Cosimo, Piero, and Lorenzo de’ Medici, for example, as well as their wealthy contemporaries such as Filippo Strozzi and Giovanni Rucellai. In most of these studies, taste, political opinion, and social position are used to analyze the painting, sculpture, and buildings that were made under a given patron’s aegis. At the same time, monographic studies of painters, sculptors, and architects often now concentrate on those who purchased their work as a means to better understand the work they produced. Indeed, in some cases, for example in Jonathan Nelson’s work on Filippino Lippi’s later paintings and Andrew Blume’s analysis of the religious paintings of Sandro Botticelli, the taste of the patron is sometimes accorded more importance in visual analysis than the style of the painter, the maker of the works adapting his style to suit the person who paid for them. This approach has an illustrious precedent in Gombrich’s analysis of the architectural style of Cosimo de’ Medici. Gombrich’s argument is that in an era before the notion of the autonomous artist was widely accepted, Cosimo did not act as a patron for his buildings, with his ideas mediated through the artist; instead, his character was directly expressed in them: It is hardly fanciful to feel something of Cosimo’s spirit in the buildings he founded, something of his reticence and lucidity, his seriousness and his restraint . . . the work of art is the donor’s.
Thus an individual personality is seen to be somehow revealed and embodied by the objects he (and this type of patronage study is generally predicated on a single male subject) paid for. The idea of generation, almost in a biological sense, is replicated in a way reminiscent of Filarete’s dictum that the patron is the father of the building and the architect the mother. The actual maker of these objects is a vessel for the impulses poured into him by a patron and (implicitly) by the society that shaped this patron’s wishes.
The mechanics of this relationship;how the patron could influence an object’s final appearance;have benefited from attention from art historians over recent years. Michelle O’Malley in her detailed study of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italian contracts, for example, has provided an important analysis of the financial and legalistic framework of this contractual transaction through the use of quantification of a broad range of source material. Other kinds of evidence have also been used in attempts to reconstruct the circumstances of the creation of a work, notably the ricordanze (record books) and account books of artists. Anabel Thomas, for example, has reconstructed the world of the Florentine artist’s workshop using the ricordanze of the painter Neri di Bicci, and Ellen Callman has made extensive use of the account books of Apollonio di Giovanni.
Some scholars have had methodological difficulties in any use of the patron-as-artist approach. Charles Hope, for example, in the name of common sense, questioned the viability of making any connection between the patron and the artwork beyond the basic choice of subject matter. Similarly, Creighton Gilbert, in his recent article on the Renaissance patron, through collecting as many examples of Renaissance art patronage as he could, resolves that patrons usually indicated themes in a general way . . . but would seem chiefly to have sensibly thought the professionals could handle the details better. . . . At the opposite end, patrons sometimes had their own ideas.
As these conclusions would indicate, it seems to be difficult, if not impossible, to provide a one-size-fits-all model for the relationship between maker and purchaser in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The focus has often been on ascertaining the respective influences of artist and patron on the final form of an object. The artwork remains the culmination of analysis as scholars attempt to reconstruct the circumstances that led to its creation, in order to unlock its meaning. This meaning is implicitly understood to be reconstructable, singular, and unified. In other words, only one individual is implied as the audience for the work, and that is the person who paid for it. The possibility of multiple interpretations is underplayed in favor of one that fits well with the historical details of the patron or, depending on the case in question, the artist or adviser. In this way, the complexities involved in the representation of patronal identity are reduced to a series of biographical ingredients, which when mixed together with some artist’s biography thrown in, result in the finished work.
An important recent consideration of these issues has been Dale Kent’s Cosimo de’ Medici and the Florentine Renaissance. The subtitle of this book, The Patron’s Oeuvre, may suggest at first sight a straightforward consideration of the purchaser of an object, rather than its maker, as the creative force behind it. This would be to underplay considerably the sophistication of Kent’s approach, which, as I have mentioned, also considers the common culture of the Florentine patron, artist, and audience (to use her terms) as well as tracing networks of friendship and clientage between the Medici and the painters, sculptors, and architects who were in their employ. The concept of oeuvre, however, unfortunately poses a great many methodological problems to the study of Renaissance visual culture. In fact, Kent herself demonstrates difficulties with the use of the term in her discussion of Paolo Uccello’s Battle of San Romano series. Long considered a Medici commission, documentation brought to light just as Kent’s book was about to be published suggests convincingly that the paintings originally belonged to the Bartolini family. The dispute in itself questions her claim that, unlike an artist’s oeuvre, the body of [the patron’s] work is at least a given, consisting by definition of commissions which can be documentably attributed directly or indirectly to his initiative. For the Nasi and Del Pugliese;along with the vast majority of Florentine families;we often do not have enough evidence to link extant works with suggestive, but scant, documentation, let alone the majority of painted and sculpted objects that have been destroyed in the five hundred years since their creation, or those for which there are no documentary traces at all.
Identity, Society, and Meaning
The notion of social identity is particularly important to my analysis of the visual and verbal sources I consider in the following chapters. This connects the idea of self-fashioning, a concept that has relatively recently been taken up by Renaissance art historians, with a renewed interest in the role of the audience of images, and a consideration of the way that objects can function as mediators between the self and society. This broadens the notion of consumer as an analytic tool. The idea of economic consumption, generally confined to those who paid for goods, can be expanded to visual consumption, those who were intended to see and use them.
An important basis for my approach is the belief that all the objects that I examine;be they portrait medals, paintings, or building facades;can reveal something about the culture in which they were made as they could only produce meaning in reference to a broader mental framework. Thus, I often examine texts that are not directly related to the objects in question in the hope that creative juxtaposition of primary visual and verbal source material can help us understand more about Renaissance culture. In this way I am methodologically borrowing from a tradition of cultural history that, once again, can be partly traced back to Aby Warburg.
That said, cultural values are difficult to define, not least because they are subject to change and are not necessarily shared by an entire society. Indeed, one of the issues that constantly presented itself during my research was the way in which images in this period seemed to cater to different types of audience, defining as well as reflecting differing social roles. Meaning is not monolithic and, clearly, is located in the eye of the beholder. An important part of my analysis has been to consider the intended audience, on the assumption that the vast majority of the artworks commissioned during this period were meant to be seen by a number of people who took no part in the commissioning process. It almost goes without saying that the constituencies that made up an audience or the reception of the work by individual onlookers cannot be exactly re-created. However, to paraphrase Michael Baxandall, people do not stop running one-hundred-meter races because they will never run them in no time at all: there are better and worse understandings of the contemporary meanings of images. In particular, the representative objects that I analyze in the following pages were created in reference to visual conventions. These conventions came from both an artistic tradition and a broader realm of social mores, such as dress, gesture, and role-playing in prayer and public festival, let alone a more general sense of everyday performance of civic identities on the public stage. With the help of texts contemporary with these paintings, I attempt to offer an interpretation of the meanings these objects could convey. I also, when possible, address the possibility of the existence of different audiences;the elite as opposed to the poor; men as opposed to women;who may have reacted (or may have been expected to react) differently to the works. Thus I often invert the traditional approach to art patronage: instead of looking at how the patron may have influenced the creation of the work, I look at how the audience of the work was meant to perceive the social identity of the purchaser.
Throughout, it has seemed most profitable to work on the assumption that the relation of the represented person (or society) to the representation involves a complex, two-way process: visual objects transmit cultural values rather than simply mimicking them; and they act to organize and structure their social environment. Painting, therefore, has an affect on the way (social) patronage is understood as well as vice versa. For these reasons I base my analysis on the idea that the appearance of buildings and their ornamentation not only was central to the way that power was manifested but also actively organized power relations at official governmental and informal local and patronal levels. To borrow from one of Michel Foucault’s more general dicta, power;which in Florence was often constituted in the relationships of patronage networks;is not simply imposed from above but is accepted throughout society because it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourses. Pleasure and pride were invoked through the beauty of the visual arts in Renaissance Florence, not only for those who paid for these objects but for a much broader constituency, the audience of images. Paintings, sculptures, and buildings were effective because they provided for a felt need in devotional and social practice, which could differ depending on their audience. Because their beauty was a key part of their power to affect the onlooker’s emotions, beauty was considered a virtue rather than merely an aesthetic delectation. In this way, knowledge was shown and imparted: paintings and sculptures paid for by the elite were used to teach correct modes of social behavior to those who were deemed unable to judge this for themselves, notably in this period, women, children, and the unlettered poor. Moreover, the understanding of newly fashionable classical texts needed to interpret many images could confirm the informed onlooker’s possession of the cultural capital so important for notions of social status, thus legitimizing social difference. Discourse was centered on justifications for spending money on the beautification of the city as opposed to giving it in alms. Social and political change affected the way that this spending was perceived and justified.
Florence, Patronage, and the Medici
The city of Florence has, over the last century, acted as a kind of laboratory for patronage studies, one commentator even suggesting that the study of Medicean patronage was practically an industry. It is true that the Medici offer a particularly compelling research subject for Renaissance scholars: evidence about their activities is abundant, and Cosimo, Piero, and Lorenzo were all undoubtedly important in furthering the new learning and reviving classicizing visual styles. Sixteenth-century sources, particularly Vasari, emphasize Lorenzo’s role as a patron of the new culture, and it seems likely that Vasari’s interpretation had roots in fifteenth-century rhetoric and, to some extent, behavior. However, because the Medici family tended to be at the vanguard of new cultural fashions, it is problematic to see them as somehow emblematic of Florentine culture as a whole. Indeed, it has been argued that the concentration on the Medici family and their immediate circle could distort our notions of the visual arts in the fifteenth century. Very few Florentines, even among the patriciate, had the money of Cosimo de’ Medici or the education of Giovanni Rucellai to draw on when considering building a house or decorating a chapel. Others, even among the elite, may have had more prosaic or unfashionable motivations.
Florence as a whole has also benefited from more scholarly attention than many other Italian cities. Rather than being discouraging, the array of secondary material on the Florentine Renaissance was crucial for my research because it permitted comparisons between my findings in the archive and a broader historical picture. Indeed, much of the following study relies on a synthesis of other scholars’ research in which to place my own readings of particular visual and verbal artifacts. I hope that the notes will make my debts clear.
Another motive for choosing Florence as the focus for my investigations was its importance as a center for the production of the visual arts in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, many of the objects and buildings that made the city renowned for its beauty still surviving. Developments in artistic form that were to be influential all over Europe were initiated by Florentines throughout the period, and these practitioners of the visual arts were financially supported by their wealthy compatriots. The link between the social and political structure of this city and the visual arts in particular is likely to provide information that has broader implications for the study of patronage elsewhere in Europe and may, indeed, have produced a model of support for visual artists that was followed elsewhere.
I originally chose the Nasi and Del Pugliese families for a variety of reasons. Neither of them had been extensively studied previously. They both commissioned a variety of artworks in the period I was initially interested in (from the 1470s to the 1510s), and, from my initial research, it seemed that there would be enough extant archival material concerning each family to provide a detailed study. Both living in the quarter of Santo Spirito (though in different gonfaloni [administrative districts], Drago Verde and Scala), they were relatively new families: their participation in Florentine government was recent, as was their wealth. It seemed that there could be rich documentation here for a consideration of how visual material was used strategically to confirm and maintain their newfound elite status. The Del Pugliese’s involvement with renowned artists;such as Botticelli, Filippino Lippi, and Piero di Cosimo;also made them an alluring subject of research.
I make no claims as to the typicality of either family, though I hope that most of my arguments would be equally valid for a great many other Florentine patricians in this period. My choice of themes was largely suggested to me by the visual and verbal sources that the families left behind. While I hope that being led by the evidence has had some advantages in terms of looking at subjects afresh, it is important to point out that this method has also led to some omissions. There is no substantial evidence, for example, of Nasi and Del Pugliese women commissioning or purchasing art objects, but they are discussed in the text as an important perceived audience for some of the goods bought by their husbands and fathers. There is now a great deal of literature on Renaissance women art patrons, and the omission of them here by no means denies the fact that women could and did take part in the production of Renaissance visual culture;though my lack of archival findings perhaps reflects the dominant position of men as purchasers of display objects. It is likely that much of the analysis about social identity here, and particularly the creation of the art patron, could be considered in relationship to changing gender roles, though any conclusions about this would be beyond the scope of my study. Similarly, although members of both families certainly belonged to their local religious confraternities, there was no material to suggest that they acted through these bodies to build or furnish meetinghouses or chapels; thus, my main treatment of corporate artistic decision making has been through my examination of the opera (works committee) of Santo Spirito in Chapter 3. Once again, this is not intended to underplay the importance of confraternities in Florentine religious and cultural life.
More specifically, I do not deal with some works said to belong to the Del Pugliese family, but for which there is presently no known contemporary evidence. The most important example of this is Piero di Cosimo’s Early History of Man series, meant for the palace of Francesco del Pugliese, and Fra Bartolommeo’s now destroyed Saint George and the Dragon fresco, also made for this palace. Constraints of time also meant I concentrated on the property and purchases both families made in the city of Florence, with the exception of Francesco del Pugliese’s villa in Sommaia (Chapter 8). The Florentine countryside (contado) has recently become a vibrant area of research, and the activities of private family building in the contado have been discussed elsewhere.
The first part of this book is concerned with structures of social identity. The first chapter examines the Florentine family. As well as introducing the Nasi and Del Pugliese lineages, it considers the different structures of these kin units, and how their identity and social status were manifested through the purchase of material goods such as portrait medals and family chapels. I also examine the importance of locating family identity within the context of civic history and civic space. This theme is expanded in the second chapter, which focuses on the family palace, a field that has much benefited from attention of social and architectural historians alike over the past two decades. After considering the families’ strategies for the conquest of local space (and power structures) through palace purchase and construction, I examine the disposition of space and display objects within the home, using three unpublished Nasi family inventories, suggesting how public values could govern the organization of supposedly private palaces. Chapter 3 concentrates on the church of Santo Spirito, as the Nasi family played an important role in the opera of this Augustinian foundation as well as owning a family chapel there. At first I examine how patricians could express local identity and allegiances in the building of chapels as they did in the building of palaces, proposing that chapel allocation and the composition of the opera of this convent served to perpetuate local and communal power relationships. A change in these relationships after 1494 had direct consequences for the personnel of the opera and on the interior decoration of the church. I suggest how this decoration can be read as a public manifestation of political influence and relationships among the quarter’s elite. Chapter 4 examines friendship, tracing the beginnings of the notion of art patronage in Laurentian Florence. After a general consideration of the relationships between artists and the patriciate during this period, I take as the center of my analysis a double portrait by Filippino Lippi of himself and Piero del Pugliese and suggest that the concept of amicizia, consecrated in its purest form as a meeting of two minds, supplied a rhetorical trope in which the patron-artist relationship could operate, ennobling the actions of each party and modulating status differentiation.
A vast proportion of the total production of painters, sculptors, and architects in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries went toward the decoration and construction of churches and chapels. The next three chapters of this study concentrate on display culture in ecclesiastical space and other religious settings. Concerned with the relationship between the church and the patricians who invested in it, Chapter 5 explains the legal concept of patronage rights and its moral implications. I suggest that these rights are a fundamental basis for understanding the motives and results of chapel and church decoration in this period and look in detail at Piero del Pugliese’s investment in the Dominican hermitage of Santa Maria a Lecceto. In particular, I consider how idealized roles for church patrons and donors affected the design of two altarpieces that were originally placed in the church. In the next chapter I examine who had control over the decoration of chapel spaces within churches, and how matters such as appearance, dedication, and decoration were negotiated. Developing a theme first mooted in Chapter 3, I suggest that the aesthetic of harmony and order in Brunelleschian churches had a more than metaphorical relationship with perceptions and ideals of an ordered society in late quattrocento Florence. I use as a case study the redecoration of the church of the Spedale degli Innocenti, which included the construction of a chapel paid for by Piero del Pugliese at the end of the 1480s.
Both the Nasi and Del Pugliese families commissioned images of the Apparition of the Virgin to Saint Bernard, by Piero Perugino and Filippino Lippi respectively. Chapter 7 examines the reasons why these images, produced within fifteen years of each other, have such different appearances. I consider the audience of these works, the monks who said mass in front of them, and the role of religious imagery in providing exemplars for differing onlookers.
The final chapter is concerned with the first major rupture in the accommodations made between church and political elite that were so prominent in the Laurentian period. Savonarola effectively separated the spending of money on luxury goods from the ideal of charity, taking away the prime justification used earlier in the fifteenth century, notably in the doctrine of magnificence. I also examine how the rhetorical style of his sermons can provide art historians with an indication of the workings of image-led devotional practice in this period and suggest how the paintings that his followers, such as Francesco del Pugliese, commissioned were perhaps intended to provoke responses in their viewers analogous to those produced by the friar’s sermons.
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