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  • Artists at Court: Image-Making and Identity, 1300-1550
  • Jill Burke
Stephen J. Campbell , ed. Artists at Court: Image-Making and Identity, 1300–1550. Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2004. 268 pp. index. illus. bibl. $45. ISBN: 0–91–4660–23–3.

This lively and rewarding collection considers the relationship between artistic identity and court culture in Renaissance Italy and Northern Europe. Articles take as their broad starting point Martin Warnke's The Court Artist: On the Ancestry of the Modern Artist. In the introduction, Stephen J. Campbell neatly summarizes Warnke's main contentions: the modern notion of the artist as occupying an elevated position outside of bourgeois society is related to the aristocratic status they held in courts in premodern Europe. The material and social rewards they were able to receive in court would never be available to them in the civic context of the artists' workshop. In order to justify the connection of the visual arts with intellectual virtue and nobility, a literature of the visual arts grew up in a courtly setting. In other words, in Warnke's teleology the milieu of Mantua, Burgundy, or Urbino was more crucial than Venice or Florence in creating modern notions of art.

Campbell has brought together a chronologically and geographically wide-ranging series of essays to reconsider Warnke's ideas. Starting with a contribution by Evelyn Welch considering the relationship between visual artists at court with musicians and jesters, the essays are then arranged in broadly chronological order, starting with C. Jean Campbell's essay on Simone Martini's work at Avignon from the mid-1330s, and ending in Rebecca Zorach's discussion of the French Renaissance of the 1530s and 1540s. The courts and artists considered along the way are Burgundy (Sherry C. M. Lindquist), Savoy (Frédéric Elsig), the Bentivoglio in Bologna (David J. Drogin), the Gonzaga in Mantua (Stephen J. Campbell), Sforza Milan (Luke Syson), Margaret of Austria (Ethan Matt Kavaler), Raphael in Leo X's Rome (Kim E. Butler), Dürer as patronized by Frederick the Wise and Emperor Maximillian I (Larry Silver), Giulio Clovio in the court of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (Elena Calvillo), and Dosso Dossi in Ferrara (Giancarlo Fiorenza).

The decision to include these rather different types of courts would be justifiable if only because they make graphically visible the influences and appropriations that characterized European elite culture and spread well beyond national boundaries. This emerges in several of the contributions, especially those [End Page 243] by Lindquist, Elsig, Drogin, and Kavaler. More than this, however, this collection rewards the reader with themes that emerge, seemingly almost organically, in the varied contributions.

One such theme was the lack of a clear corollary between what would traditionally be understood as "fine art" production and the status of an artist at court. Welch describes the difficulties painters and sculptors could have in being permanent court employees — the nature of their work meant that, unlike jesters or musicians, they were not continuously required to be in attendance, and thus were less likely to be in a permanent position that allowed them to be physically close to the prince — and she suggests they needed to develop performative roles in order to secure a place in the court hierarchy. Lindquist describes how painters to the Dukes of Burgundy were often rewarded as much, or more, for personal loyalty to the duke than for their artistic skills, and became closest and most useful members of the court through their management roles in large collaborative proj-ects, including such "low arts" as design for pennants, banners, harnesses, and escutcheons, a position also noted by Elsig for artists in Savoy (61). The idea of collaboration, it seems, was often important for the court artist, just as it could be for the masters of large urban workshops. Syson convincingly suggests that we should reconsider Leonardo's output in Milan in the light of his collaboration with the "Leonardeschi" as a way of asserting a new style of art associated with Lodovico Sforza's takeover of the city. This strand culminates in Zorach's thought-provoking essay on the French Renaissance, suggesting that the collaborative nature of the work of a...


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pp. 243-244
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2009
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