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The Relationship Between Wealth and Art - Renaissance

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WK - The Italian Renaissance was a time of rebirth in the arts. An abundance of new styles were explored, building on classical traditions but also breaking away from them. This cultural explosion was made possible by the liberal distribution of florins that characterized the artistic support of leading banking and commerce families. These influential families were patrons sometimes as a Machiavellian exercise of their power, often to atone for religious sins, and sometimes because they loved art and the artists who produced it. This essay will explore the relationship between these wealthy families and the art they helped author to prove that, regardless of their motivations, their contributions to western art are unparalleled.

The Bardi family controlled one the largest banks in Europe in their day. From Florence, they oversaw nearly 100 branches (http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-27674, Retrieved November 27, 2006), and were able to loan massive amounts of money to help support England. In fact, at one point they Ð''"privatized" the revenues of Edward II and Edward III [and] paid the King's budget,' (http://american_almanac.tripod.com/pbgbardi.htm, Ð''Privatization' section, para 3, Retrieved November 27, 2006), which clearly shows the extent of their wealth. This wealth they used to retain the services of Giotto di Bondone to paint a score of frescoes for their chapel at Santa Croce (http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9065572, Retrieved November 27, 2006), including the famous Ð''Death and Ascension of Saint Francis', and also to have Donatello make the Ð''Crucifix' for their chapel. The Bardi's financial success also allowed them to commission Botticelli to paint them several altarpieces, including the famous Bardi Altarpiece (http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-780, November 25, 2006). In literature, it was Bardi finances that supported the young writer Boccaccio at the court of Naples. This is where he was sent by his father, who was in fact himself a Bardi agent (http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Italian_Studies/dweb/boccaccio/life1.shtml. Retrieved Nov 25, 2006.). Here he was exposed to and influenced by the works of Petrarch, and he met Fiammetta, who was to appear as a character in many of his great works ("Boccaccio, Giovanni," 2006). Finally, the Bardi's patronage led to a group of humanists, musicians, poets and intellectuals who Ð''met to discuss and guide trends in the arts, especially music and drama' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florentine_Camerata, Retrieved November 25, 2006). Down all these avenues the Bardi family nurtured the arts with their great fortune, and it is certainly fortunate because of the impact they had on western expression in their day.

Due to the fact that collecting interest on loans was immoral and discouraged by the Catholic church, as supported by St. Thomas Aquinas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usury, Ð''Usury in Scholastic Theology' section, Retrieved November 25, 2006), the Bardi's used creative methods, such as receiving Ð''"gifts" called "compensation"' (http://american_almanac.tripod.com/pbgbardi.htm, Ð''Privatization' section, para 3, Retrieved November 25, 2006) to avoid the immoral label. However, it is likely that the extensive patronage they bestowed upon the arts was a way of atoning for their semantically disguised sin. This is supported by the fact that they maintained and patronized a chapel at Santa Croce ("Santa Croce," 2006). Regardless of the fact that the motive for such artistic support may have been tainted by a desire to atone for usury, the authorship of such great works stands as its own merit.

The Peruzzi family was also heavily involved in banking, with some 83 branches ("Italy," 2006) across Europe. Like the Bardis, with whom they frequently did business, the Peruzzi family also loaned money to England, as well as to France ("Peruzzi Family," 2006). It is clear that the Peruzzi's were wealthy, and they contributed to Santa Croce by having Giotto complete for their chapel frescoes that depicted scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist, which were sadly later whitewashed and only recently restored. ("Giotto di Bondone," 2006). These examples show the use of the Peruzzi fortune to support art.

Like the Bardis, the Peruzzis were also attempting to atone for the sin of usury by choosing to contribute to the beauty of Santa Croce (and in fact they used the same artist to do so). It is also likely that a spirit of competition existed between the two leading families of their day, since they both had their fortunes in banking, both lived in Florence, both had chapels at Santa Croce, and both use Giotto to decorate their chapels. Despite this less-than-noble motivation, the Peruzzis' patronage helped support Florence art, and to inspire later families.

Eventually, the Bardi and Peruzzi financial empires collapsed, as a result of the default on payments by both the King of England and the King of Naples, and the repossession of their property by the King of France ("Peruzzi Family," 2006). Even the resultant bankruptcies, however, were not without their artistic benefits. For example, no longer able to be supported at the Naples court, Boccaccio was forced to live out his life in semi-poverty ("Boccaccio, Giovanni," 2006). During this time he also lived through the plague, and these hardships led to the maturity evident in his crowning work, Ð''Decameron'. Another benefit to the artistic culture of Florence that came out of the economic crises of the Bardi and Peruzzi families was the laying of conditions conducive to the establishment of Medici control in Florence. Without these devastating bankruptcies, Cosimo de' Medici could not have taken control ("Florence," 2006), and without his de facto control, and later than of his family, Renaissance art would not have flourished so strongly. It is clear then that even the collapse of the empires of these once-wealthy families made a significant impact on western arts.

Cosimo de' Medici was another wealthy banker, who brought peace to the region ("Italy," 2006), and who poured his wealth back into the city of Florence. He supported the architects Brunelleschi and Michelozzo, who were both at different points the architects for the cathedral of Florence ("Michelozzo," 2006). Michelozzo's design was chosen for the Palazzo Medici, and Cosimo also had him rebuild the Convent of San Marco. In the field of academics, Cosimo founded an academy for platonic study, and he underwrote the cost for Marsilio Ficino to translate and comment upon Platonic works (Cunningham

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