Narrator: Listen to part of the lecture in an art history class.
Professor: We spend a lot of time concentrating only on the artist. What was a painter trying to accomplish? Why did he use or she choose a particular color.
Those are important questions. But We shouldn't forget the social context in which artists work, and that context of course includes where the money come from, I mean. Ok, what's the impetus these days for opinions to be made, and how is it sold usually? Anyone? Lisa.
Lisa: I guess the typical way is an artist getting inspired to create certain painting. Then when it's done, we will seek to set the price, and look for buyers through website I guess or gallery or something?
Professor: Right. But back in the 15th Century Italy, it was a different story. This period is known as the High Renaissance. Some of the most important artists in Europe were working in Florence at that time. And the relationship between artists and buyers, was quite different in the scenarios just described by Lisa. During the High Renaissance, buyers played a very active role, in the initiations, destinations, almost all aspects of the artist work. They specified what was to be painted, what should appear in the background, foreground, colors, yeah, Lisa?
Lisa: But how do we know all this?
Professor: How? We have got hundreds of surviving documents that were from 15th century Florence. With the agreement of the buyers and artists, there is no set format to them, but they all do appear to the contract in which the buyers dictate the subject matter of a painting and set the terms of the payment. The contract also addressed the materials, buyers actually stipulated what quantity of the most rare and expensive paints the artists will use.
And in some cases, where on the canvas these colors will be applied? And which paint will be applied to the frame? Ok, and the two pigments mentioned most often in those documents are gold and ultra-marine. Ultra-marine was a very rare very expensive blue pigment. And blue pigment was a problem for European artists in the 15th century. Other blues were either pale or unstable, they tended to fade over time. But ultra-marine was an unusually deep vivid blue. A blue that can resist the fading. Especially the highest grade of ultra-marine. So the contract might say that the painter has to use this much gold, and that much of the highest grade of ultra-marine. But if you look at this contract over the course of the 15th century, you can see a change taking place. The early part of the century was a time of conspicuous display of status, it was acceptable to flaunt your money if you had it, to dress in bright colors to wear expensive jewelry, but as centuries progressed, blatant ways showing off how rich you are became less acceptable. It was considered in bad taste. Sable became fashionable. For instance, everyone start wearing black, so the wealthy walks wear cloth the best quality black quaff. And same ship of values was reflected in contracts between artists and buyers. Contracts from the second half in 15th century, place less emphasis on gold and also ultra-marine for example, and when you look at the paints produced toward the end of the century, you do see less of these colors. In fact most of the gold was done on the frame, not in the painting. What became more important was the skill of the art. And contracts provide evidences of this. And to understand how, you have to know something about the way the Renaissance artists worked. The most prominent artists, the master painters, all have assistants in the workshop.
Lisa: But to the buyers, how to control how much of the painting is done by the masters rather than the assistants?
Professor: You spelled this out in the contract. As the century went on, more and more contracts specified the amount of time the master must spend on the painting. Buyer would demand the certain, like the central figures must be rendered by the master painters, whether this was carry out is evident to the trained eye in the finished work. And like I said, there was less talk about those precious materials in the contract, which probably may be artists' habit. Now I am not saying the paintings are less expensive, wealthy buyers were still able to show their wealth, but in different less obvious ways.