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In this lesson, you will explore the role and status of artists during the Renaissance and discover how artists achieved this status and what was expected of them. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Celebrity

Everyone has a favorite celebrity. For me, it’s Groucho Marx. I just can’t get enough of that guy. Celebrities play an important role in a culture, from providing a model of social perfection to representing cultural values for foreign groups. In America, we love our celebrities, but we are far from the first culture to have them.

Every culture had some sort of celebrity. Renaissance Italy was no exception.The Renaissance was a period from the late 14th century through the 16th century, characterized by political competition, religious fervor, intellectual sophistication, and an immense amount of artistic production. For the people of the Renaissance, there were few greater celebrities than artists.

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Artists carried a special status in Renaissance society. They were respected; they were admired; they were practically worshiped. Can you even imagine what that was like? Well, you don’t have to! Today, we are going to make you a Renaissance artist!

Artistic Training

Grab some paint and brushes; you are now an artist in the Italian Renaissance. Well, you’re an artist-in-training. The first step as any artist is to get a position as a student in the workshop of an established artist.

The master, the artist who runs the studio, trains the apprentices in that style of art, be it sculpture, painting, architecture, or goldsmithing. Your future success as an artist, as well as your reputation, are largely based on the reputation of the master who trains you. We are putting you underneath the tutelage of a very famous artist. As his apprentice, you will work many long hours, mostly working on details of the master’s work, adding finishing touches.

Your success as an artist will depend on your artistic training, but also on other aspects of your education. The Renaissance was a period of high intellectual pursuits. People read the classic works of ancient Greece and Rome, wrote poetry, studied math and science, debated philosophy, and discussed theology.

Artists are seen as the greatest of intellectuals, and your artwork is supposed to contain multiple layers of symbolism that reflect your understanding of philosophy, politics, and religion. In a society of educated people, your ability to think intellectually is central to achieving famed status as an artist.

Life as an Artist

Well, you did it! You spent long nights finishing the works of a master, you studied the philosophies and sciences, and you have developed your skill enough to graduate from an apprentice to a master. You are now an artist! Now, you need to find work. Artists of the Renaissance are often employed by the courts of local princes and lords. Places like Italy are not yet nations, but instead a series of city-states, local, independent governments based around a city.

You are living in the most famous art center of Italy, Florence, and because you are so skilled, you are hired as the court painter of the Medici family. The Medici are the wealthiest family of Florence and some of the greatest patrons of art in the world.Families like the Medici are always looking to show off their wealth, influence, and role in society, and you are how they do this.

The Medici commission lots of art; this displays their wealth and status. However, since art is seen as uplifting all people, the Medici also commission art for public or religious spaces, like cathedrals, to demonstrate their respect of the people. Now, the Medici are paying you to create art for their homes, as well as a few paintings for the church, and a fountain for the plaza. But, you’re not done.Families also use artists sort of like diplomats, to help them solidify political and economic relationships with other lords, princes, or businessmen. So, the Medici commission you to create a major work of art for the Prince of Milan and another for the Lord of Venice.

You are working a lot, but the more you create, the more famous you become. The people of Venice recognize your work and associate it with the wealth and intellectual benevolence of the Medici. The Prince of Milan associates your work with the growth of Florence, and everyone else in Milan begins to as well.

The more famous you become, the more people will try to hire you. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll even be commissioned by the Pope himself! As an artist you are very busy and very famous, but only so long as you continue to produce work that inspires. It’s tough work, but hey, that’s the life of a celebrity!

Lesson Summary

The Renaissance was the period from the late 14th century through the 16th century characterized by education, wealth, and immense artistic production. During the Renaissance, artists held celebrity status. The road to becoming a famous artist was tough, requiring intense study of art as well as philosophy, science, religion, and politics since artists were supposed to be master intellectuals.Many artists strove to get a position as the court artist for one of the lords or princes of Europe, who were the primary patrons of art during the Renaissance.

An artist in this position served like diplomats, with their art helping to display the wealth and benevolence of the patron. The more visible an artist’s work was, the more fame it accumulated. Life as an artist could be tough, but for those who made it, the reward was an immortal celebrity status.

Learning Outcomes

This lesson should teach you to:

  • Recall what the Renaissance was
  • Discuss how artists were trained during the Renaissance
  • Describe the typical life of an artist during the Renaissance

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