From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Media, as we know it, first emerged at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Papers, journals, broadsheets, all became widely available in the new created public space of the coffeehouse. [...] The popular market for art and literature liberated writers and artists from the need for court patronage. No longer having to please their sponsors, they could experiment, and speak out as brashly as they wished." --Counterculture Through the Ages (2004) by Ken Goffman, p. 162
Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege and often financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings or popes have provided to musicians, painters, and sculptors. It can also refer to the right of bestowing offices or church benefices, the business given to a store by a regular customer, and the guardianship of saints. The term derives from the Latin patronatus, the formal relationship between a Patronus and his Clientes.
In European art, patrons have been the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages; the courts in the Renaissance and the bourgeoisie (the new middle class) in the Enlightenment era. During the 20th century private patrons were joined by state funded arts councils and museums.
From the ancient world through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and into the early modern era, patronage of the arts was an important if not crucial phenomenon. It is known in greatest detail in reference to pre-modern Europe, though patronage can also be traced in feudal Japan and the traditional kingdoms of Southeast Asia and elsewhere—art patronage tended to arise wherever a royal or imperial system and an aristocracy dominated a society and controlled a significant share of its material resources. Rulers, nobles, and very wealthy people used patronage of the arts to endorse their political ambitions, social positions, and prestige. That is, patrons operated as sponsors. Various languages still use a term, "mecenate," derived from the name of Emperor Augustus' generous friend and adviser Gaius Maecenas. Some patrons, such as the Medici of Renaissance Florence, additionally used artistic patronage to "cleanse" wealth that was perceived as ill-gotten through usury.
While sponsorship of artists and the creation of art works is the best-known aspect of the patronage system, other disciplines and activities also benefitted from patronage, from early science (called natural philosophy), to scholarship and philosophy and all forms of intellectual endeavor, to practices like alchemy and astrology—all enjoyed varying levels of support from interested patrons.
Art patronage was especially important in the creation of religious art; organized religions have sponsored artistic development on every scale, from the largest architectural expressions in cathedrals, mosques, and temples to the smallest miniatures of painting and sculpture, and handicrafts of all types.
In European cultural history, virtually every major and minor figure in music, literature, and the fine arts from the Medieval period to the early modern era had some relationship with the patronage system, in which royal and noble patrons subsidized artistic creation. Artists as diverse and important as Chrétien de Troyes, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Shakespeare and Jonson all sought and enjoyed the support of noble or ecclesiastical patrons. Figures as late as Mozart and Beethoven also participated in the system to some degree; it was only with the rise of bourgeois and capitalist social forms in the nineteenth century that European culture moved away from its patronage system to the more publicly-supported system of museums, theaters, mass audiences and mass consumption that is familiar in the contemporary world.
This kind of system continues across many fields of the arts. Though the nature of the sponsors has changed—from churches to charitable foundations, and from aristocrats to plutocrats—the term patronage has a more neutral connotation than in politics. It may simply refer to direct support (often financial) of an artist, for example by grants.
In the later part of the twentieth century the academic sub-discipline of patronage studies began to evolve, in recognition of the important and often neglected role that the phenomenon of patronage had played in the cultural life of previous centuries.
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