the ARTistry of ARThistory occasionally done ARTfully

Archive for the ‘patronage’ Category

Speaking of Iran…

Posted by gninja on September 25, 2007

(Picasso, Painter and Model, 1927, Oil on Canvas, 214 cm x 200 cm, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art)

Some newspapers just have a better sense of nuance than others.

If you can get past the first page, the LA Times has published a rather thoughtful article on the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, and their cache of masterpieces in the basement (though still on internet display).

The article provides a contrast to the pages printed throughout the country yesterday during Ahmahdinejad’s visit to NY.  Most importantly, the reporter draws attention to presence of the paintings in the basement vault, and not in the hands of foreign collectors and museums.  Why not sell them?  Have a vanities bonfire?

While the US media (and the current administration) paint broad slap-dash strokes over an entire country, equating it and its leader, there’s obviously a diversity of opinion that’s not being rendered.  But it’s hard to hard to have an enemy that exhibits more than one dimension.

I’d hate to think of what people in other countries might say about me, were they to cull the AP so selectively:

White Supremacist Backlash Builds over Jena Case

Don’t Tase Me Bro

Iraq’s Soldiers of Fortune

Why Did Fox Censor Sally Field’s Emmy Speech?

Censor Kathy Griffin 

Those are just from the last week and a half.

Posted in art, art history, exhibitions, exhibits, galleries, museums, patronage, politics | Leave a Comment »

Statements of Authority in Sainte-Chapelle

Posted by gninja on October 24, 2006


In looking at Sainte-Chapelle, we can think about earlier discussions of the force of the individual in “inventing” or driving forward an artistic form. While art historians working in the wake of Panofsky debated the role of Abbot Suger in establishing what we have come to call Gothic architecture, we can discuss the role of Louis IX in shaping Gothic art. Abbot Suger used rhetoric and the imposition of a false dialectic to give the appearance of coherence and intentionality to the structure being built under his direction. In so doing, he provided a network of theological and linguistic support for the very new form of architecture seen in St-Denis. The result is a circular form of support in which the power of the Church is established by this imprssive new structure, and general acceptance of this new structure is guaranteed by the language of theology deployed in Suger’s rhetoric.

But the monarchy of France did not simply allow itself to be dominated by the Church, at least not in the PR battle waged in monumental art. We can find a counterpart to the figure of Abbot Suger in the figure of King Louis IX. As a ruler, Louis IX appears to have been aware of the role of architecture and art in issuing statements of authority. He was a patron of the arts, and Sainte-Chapelle (pictured above) is one of the greatest testaments to his (or, perhaps, his architects’) acuity in the associative power of architecture. As argued in a comprehensive article by Daniel Weiss, Sainte-Chapelle consolidates imagery of royal and religious authority–particularly that of the Throne of Wisdom–thus declaring the royal and religious authority of the commanding occupant of the chapel. In the patronage of Louis IX, then, we see an analogy with the language of Abbot Suger. Whereas the former’s patronage established a standard visual repertoire of authrotative royal imagery, the latter’s language ensured the communication of religious authority through the appearance of a new kind of architecture.

Our view of this matter however, is altered slightly by the following passage in Keith Moxey ‘s “Panofsky’s Concept of ‘Iconology’ and the Problem of Interpretation in the History of
Art” (New Literary History 17.2 (1986). 265-274):

“The focus on the ‘intention’ of the work of art assigns it a ‘terminal’ role in the life of culture, a location representing a synthesis of the ideas current in the culture of the patron or patrons who commissioned it. It ignores the life of the work of art after it has entered a social context. By concentrating on the way in which the work of art ‘reflects’ the life of its times, the preoccupation with the ‘intention’ fails to recognize the function of the work of art as an actor in the development of cultural attitudes and therefore as an agent of social change.”

I think what’s useful here is the notion that whether or not Louis IX set about establishing a visual program to communicate and legitimize his authority, the result was indeed an artistic/architectural language that was used as such, both by him and by kings to follow (as evinced by the various copies of the chapel). Indeed, the associations Weiss makes between Sainte-Chapelle and Solomonic imagery may not even have gained currency until after Louis IX’s canonization, following his successful reign. In other words, the power of the imagery of Sainte-Chapelle and its status as an architectural model for the statement of royal authority depended on both historical associations and current events. Regardless of the original purpose of Sainte-Chapelle, it was used as an instrument in the contest for primacy between the State and the Church.

Posted in architecture, art, Paris in the Middle Ages, patronage | Leave a Comment »

The Politics of Gift-Giving: Part 1 of 2

Posted by gninja on July 25, 2006

In the Middle Ages, an artistic product could not be made without the backing of a patron. There was neither the leisure nor the resources we enjoy now to enable artists or organizations to create art without a view to sustaining their livelihood or permanence. If such activities did exist, then their products could only have been ephemera, for the medieval art that has survived testifies to a firm tradition of patron-client relations. At its core, the relationship of patron to client in medieval art is modeled on the conventions and ideology of gift-giving.

My interest in this and the following post is to observe some images of patrons and gift-givers, and to interrogate the messages conveyed by these depictions.

However, before the art, must come the history. So, a word on patronage and the politics of a gift-giving economy. Until the advent of early-modern money economies, gift-giving was the prevailing mode of effecting contractual relationships. And depictions of gift-giving can be found in art extending back to the ancient Near East.


(A procession of tributaries at the Persepolis Ceremonial Complex, 330 BCE)

Fast-forward over a milennium, and the contractual and social importance of gift-giving persists. Among all strata of medieval society (and here I am speaking of what are now England, France, and Germany) relationships were established and defined through the process of gift-giving. The bestowal of presents and the dynamics of reciprocity touched upon every social relationship, from the realm of agriculture, to government, to religion, to love. The gift was a concrete mediator binding two parties, physcially manifesting and declaring the nature of the relationship. We even know of laws dating back to the 8th century, which regulate gift-giving. Pervasive throughout these edicts was the insistence that to refuse a gift was to exhibit bad manners, and, more importantly, to flout a social contract.


(15th century image of gifts given by the Dukes of Berry and Burgundy to the emperor Charles IV)

What were the kinds of messages conveyed by the social contracts forged in medieval gift-giving? By bestowing a gift upon a a peer, the medieval individual proclaimed loyalty and perhaps kinship. Upon his beloved, fidelity and esteem. Upon a superior, fealty and honor. And upon a subordinate, he proclaimed his wealth, power, supremacy, and largesse. It’s been shown, even, that excessive prodigality and even insolvence were a form of social and symbolic currency in the middle ages. Whereas, in capitalistic societies, he who has the most wins; in medieval societies, he who gives the most wins. Common to all of these relationships of gift-giving is not only the tangible bind that the object supplied, but also the obligation it placed upon its recipient.

Unlike the anthropologist or the economic historian, however, as an art historian I am interested in the visual documentation of gift-giving. While the artifacts themselves can reveal much about the social and economic history of the Middle Ages, I am much more intrigued by the ways in which individuals presented themselves (or commissioned themselves to be represented) through the act of giving a gift. What did people in the Middle Ages want to say about themselves through commemoratory images of their bestowals, and how did these images supplement the gifts themselves?

In my next post, I’ll take up these questions and address specific images of gift-giving.

Posted in patronage | 3 Comments »