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Research Our research Research per discipline Art History Patrician Patronage Project


Florence owes its fame as city of art and architecture to a great extent to the art patronage exerted by its patrician class. Therefore, it is only logical that this patronage was and still is an important topic of research. Typically, however, this research has, chronologically speaking, not ventured itself beyond the early 1530s. This can be explained by the course modern historiography on Florence has taken. The early 1530s have always been regarded as a watershed in Florence’s history, for in those years the old Florentine Republic ceased to exist and the new (grand-)ducal rule of the Medici was founded. This historical turn, so historians had it, led to a situation in which the Florentine patriciate lost its erstwhile political, social-economic, religious and cultural vitality. To their view, Florentine patricians turned into a class of aristocratically minded courtiers, who had lost their erstwhile impetus and only thirsted after noble titles and landed estates and who were, therefore, not worth to be studied and judged in their own right.

This historiographical bias had important repercussions for the study of art and architectural patronage by the Florentine patriciate under Medici (grand-)ducal rule. It was taken for granted that after the early 1530s this class had modelled itself wholly after the (grand) duke. Therefore, in the research on Florentine art and architectural patronage in the period after the early 1530s, almost all scholarly attention has been directed at the Medici (grand) dukes and only very little interest has been shown in the art patronage of the other important old Florentine families in its own right. The few works commissioned by these families that have been studied, such as for example Michelangelo’s Brutus, attracted attention much more for the sake of their creators than for that of their patrons.  

State of Research

In historical research the traditional view as sketched in the above has been readjusted in recent years. Students of Florentine history have become increasingly aware that the early 1530s have actually not been the watershed that traditional historiography had made of it. They found that after Florence had become a dukedom, the city notably kept to its urban and mercantile ways and did so well into the seventeenth century. On paper the Medici (grand) dukes indeed were sovereigns, but de facto, in the concrete exertion of their power, they found themselves dependent on the strength, the energy and the activities of Florence’s urban elite, who moreover often had its own agenda.

The Patrician Patronage Project: Commissioning Art and Architecture in Florence during Medici Rule 1530-1670 (PPP) aims at applying this recently acquired historical insight to the study of Florentine art and architectural patronage during Medici (grand-)ducal rule.  

Importance of the project

The PPP aims to show that the continuous strength and self-consciousness of the Florentine urban elite under the first Medici (grand) dukes clearly manifested itself in the activities this elite deployed in art and cultural patronage. In their commissioning of works of art and architecture Florentine patricians manifested a deep awareness of the history, traditions and honor of their own city and ancestors. In the PPP it becomes clear that in their patronage Florentine patricians often positioned themselves next to and sometimes even in direct competition with the Medici (grand) dukes.

By studying the agendas this group had with its art and architectural patronage, a whole world is charted that until now, as a result of a biased historiographical view of Florentine history, has remained largely unexplored. A world of paintings, frescoes, statues, applied arts, gardens, palaces, villa’s, churches and chapels, a considerable part of which has survived.

By studying this world our perspective on Medici (grand-)ducal court patronage drastically changes. Whereas until now this court patronage has always been studied in comparison to that of other princely courts in- and outside of Italy, the PPP views it in its immediate, local context. It then becomes apparent that Medici (grand-)ducal art and architectural patronage was deeply rooted into and even determined by local patrician traditions and practices that harked back to the fifteenth and the fourteenth century.

The collection of data that is created by the PPP contributes to the study of the Florentine elite and their approach to art in Florence in the sixteenth to the end of the seventeenth century. From it information can be extracted as to the kind of artworks and buildings the families in question commissioned. The collection of data enables us to answer questions such as: For what purposes were works of art commissioned and where exactly were they displayed? When and where were buildings erected? Which artists and/or architects were chosen for the commissions?

As the PPP treats a time span of 140 years, the collection of data could also shed light on questions concerning continuity and discontinuity: is there a notable change to be seen in the nature of the commissions and if so, what are possible explanations for this change? Do certain subjects and motifs maintain their popularity or do they go out of fashion and are they replaced by others? Does the “cultural horizon” of the patrons expand over the years, or is there no notable change?

Last modified:08 May 2019 11.45 a.m.
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