Art Principles and History


What is a patron?

A patron is somebody (an individual or a group, or even a company or a museum) who pays an artist for a work of art, or otherwise supports an artist financially. Understanding patronage is an important part of the study of art history, as understanding the needs and desires of the patron can reveal insights into the meaning or purpose of a work of art. One of the most famous art patrons was the Medici family, a rich and powerful family that dominated the Italian city of Florence during the Renaissance. Cosimo de’ Medici commissioned works by sixteenth-century artists Pontormo and Bronzino and master artist Michelangelo received key early support from the Medici family. He even lived in the Medici home as a young apprentice, and attended Lorenzo de’ Medici’s school of art.

Patrons continue to wield considerable influence over the art world. In the early twentieth century, American writer and art collector Gertrude Stein, along with her brother Leo Stein, supported artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse by buying their art at a time when their modern style was unpopular in the mainstream. More recently, Charles Saatchi, a British advertising executive, helped to support the careers of the Young British Artists (YBAs), a group that includes Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. Saatchi collected work for his aptly named Saatchi Gallery; the art he bought and displayed in his gallery directly affected art tastes and monetary values. In 2010, Saatchi donated his gallery to the British public.


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