Lade Inhalt...

Merchants and their Investment in Art. The case of the Spinelli Family

Essay 2016 11 Seiten

Geschichte Europa - and. Länder - Mittelalter, Frühe Neuzeit

Leseprobe

Merchants and Their World, 1400-1600

Word count: 2075

Why did businessmen such as the Spinelli family invest in art production?

It is commonly believed that economics and art are two diametrically opposed expressions of human existence. The need for an interdisciplinary approach, however, is particularly evident in the discussion of businessmen’s contribution to the production of art during the Renaissance. Merchants were well aware of the difference between productive and non-productive investments: yet not only did they trade in art, but they also commissioned and collected artworks for themselves. This essay will therefore investigate the reasons why merchants and bankers were willing to spend their money in such ‘economically non-productive’ ways. In doing so, it will focus on a case study, the Spinelli family, who lived in the ‘cradle’ of the Renaissance, Florence. In the 15th century, the Spinelli were neither the most influential nor the richest family in Florence. Nonetheless, their case is a very representative one: the motives behind their art investments will ultimately turn out to be the same as those of most other merchant families such as the powerful Medici and the famous Datini.[1]

First, this essay will approach the question of the artistic outpouring of the Renaissance in a theoretical way, trying to establish congruence between artistic and economic dynamics. Then, it will analyse Tommaso Spinelli’s investments in both ecclesiastical and secular art. Finally, it will demonstrate that businessmen invested in art mainly because of three many-sided motives: piety, prestige and pleasure.

In a controversial article published in 1954, Lopez dared to propose that economic depression was a major cause of the extraordinary artistic boom during the Renaissance: people invested in art because there were no other opportunities available.[2] Goldthwaite, Lopez’s keenest critic, argued instead that the reason why the Italian Renaissance produced so much art was that the urban elites first grew richer thanks to the growth of trade, and then spent their wealth on luxury goods, the building of churches and private palazzi.[3] Goldthwaite recalled the concept of ‘conspicuous consumption’, i.e. the spending money on expensive goods in order to publicly display economic power. He also maintained that ‘consumer society’ was born in early-Renaissance Italy rather than in 18th century England: this term refers to a culture where social status is centred on the consumption of specific goods.[4] It seems fair to claim that there must have been a certain level of economic well-being, at least within urban elites, in order to create such a high demand for artworks. After all, the demand for art -unlike the one for food- remains elastic. Nonetheless, Goldthwaite’s theory still has some weaknesses: for example, it overlooks the great wealth of families such as the Peruzzi at the beginning of the 14th century.[5]

Now that we have outlined the key points of the scholarly debate around our original question, it is time to turn to the main section of the essay. In short, we could say that the fundamental motives behind businessmen’s art investments were piety, prestige and pleasure. A fourth one, suggested by Goldthwaite but quite anachronistic, is further investment.[6] These motives must be connected with the cultural framework in which the merchant families were embedded. The concept of magnificentia was central to Renaissance thought: it involved a new idea of human excellence which concerned the custom of spending large amounts of money on artistic patronage and building projects.[7] Another key to the understanding of art investments is mobility. In a period in which economic/social mobility was possible indeed, self-promotion was almost a social obligation. Businessmen had to distinguish themselves from those of lower status, but had to do it in a way considered appropriate for their new position in society.

The Spinelli, a Florentine family of rather obscure origins, started to trade in silk at a local level at the beginning of the 13th century.[8] Tommaso Spinelli, the most successful member of the family, made his first investments in art in Rome, where he founded a chapel dedicated to St. Thomas the Apostle.[9] However, Tommaso’s investments in Florence are far more notable, and also very well documented: for this reason, we will draw our conclusions from the direct study of written documents and surviving works of art. Here, the term ‘art’ is meant to encompass architecture -churches and palaces- as well as smaller artworks such as frescoes and paintings: nonetheless, our approach to the question of art investments aims at identifying the main principles behind it, applicable for virtually any patron, artwork, place or time.

Saint Bernardino of Siena said ‘sei tu ricco, si? Or sappi che tu sei spenditore di Dio’: indeed, merchants often directed their investments towards ecclesiastical institutions such as the local churches to which their families were linked.[10] As his libro di spese reported, Tommaso’s first investment was a fresco in the smallest cloister of the church of Santa Croce. The pictorial cycle featured the incredulity of Saint Thomas: surely, the choice of the Saint to be represented was a mindful act of self-promotion.[11] Moreover, the fresco was located at the entrance to the church complex, where everybody could admire it. Subsequently, Tommaso donated closets, liturgical vestments and vessels: all these items were placed in the sacristy, which was another strategic place, as people used to go there to venerate the relics.[12] In 1460, he purchased from the Tolosini the ius patronatus to the transept chapel which the two families had previously shared: the Spinelli finally owned their own family chapel. In 15th century Florence, owning a private chapel was considered a symbol of great power: this reflected the contemporary process of privatization of the liturgical space.[13] When the First Cloister required urgent remedial action, as the loggias on its southern and western sides had been damaged in a fire, Tommaso funded the works. Spinelli’s greatest gift to the monastery, however, was the magnificent Second Cloister, which is generally attributed to Rossellino.[14]

Another document, in this case a letter in which Guillame d’Estouteville solicited Spinelli to subsidize the construction of a chapel in the Roman church of Sant’Agostino, explicitly showed the two motives behind merchants’ investments in ecclesiastical art.[15] The first one was to ‘sperare da Dio grande retributione in questo mondo e nell’altro’. Piety was an important and socially acceptable motive for patrons: businessmen, whose activities often involved lending money at high interest rates, hoped that their patronage would have reduced their time in Purgatory, acting as a sort of repayment to God. Yet the sincere desire to remember the dead and to honour God are to be considered as well. But although Spinelli guaranteed that his generous patronage was ‘given [...] through the reverence of God and of his most glorious apostle Saint Thomas and of Saint Francis’, his gifts were not anonymous acts of piety.[16] Spinelli's association with them was glaring, not only on the plaque placed in the passage between the First and Second cloisters but also in the coats of arms that were woven into the church decorations and into liturgical instruments including chasubles, chalices and missals [fig.1-2-3]. Certainly, the primary audience for ecclesiastical patronage was celestial. However, God did not need all those coats of arms to identify benefactors: patrons clearly had a second audience in mind, namely contemporaries and posterity. As d’Estouteville suggested, the second motive was to gain ‘laude e ricordatione perpetua fra le genti umane’: unlike registers on personal income, which lacked visibility, comprehensibility and any sign of civic virtue, investments in ecclesiastical art implied a statement of power and moral goodness in a public place. Prestige was a complex notion that involved simple pride, desire to show one’s own greatness and fear of being forgotten. A notable example of it is the tabernacle commissioned by Piero de’ Medici for the church of the Annunziata: the tabernacle was inscribed with the sentence ‘costò fior. 4 mila el marmo solo’, in an exhibitionist manner which aimed at portraying the Medici as the most benevolent patrons.[17] Sometimes, donors even advertised themselves in the artworks: when the outer panels of The Last Judgment Triptych by Memling are closed, we can see the praying figure of Jacopo Tani, banker and representative for the Medici [fig.4]. A third motive, strictly linked with the second one, was in fact the great competition between the richest families to show off their status.

Giovanni Rucellai, the merchant who financed the façade of the Church of Santa Maria Novella, expressed sentiments which paralleled those harboured by Spinelli. Not only did he have his name written across the front of the church in gigantic letters [fig.5], but he also said that he had helped decorate the church in order to serve “the glory of God, the honor of the city, and the commemoration of [himself]”.[18]

The motives behind businessmen’s investments in secular art were similar to those that we have already discussed. Private residences had public purposes: both exterior and interior spaces -architectural structure, frescoes, furnishing and movable decorations- represented the public identity of the builder, and were tangible representation of his family’s power and wealth as well as means of affirming its prestige and significance against other families. The palazzi were meant to astound outsiders rather than to provide the inhabitants with comfortable surroundings. Once they had consolidated their social position, the urbanized elites needed ‘to formulate an ideological confirmation of a class that […] did not have the tangible evidence of status that the northern feudal nobility could take for granted—familial estates, seigniorial jurisdiction, privileges, titles.’[19] Yet it is misleading to consider the palazzi as mere symbols of vanity: they also indicated the desire of the family member who built them to leave something for his descendants to remember him by, and to provide them with some kind of long-lasting property, of ‘shelter’, perhaps just because many merchant families come from nothing.[20]

The grand palace which Spinelli built in Florence is located on the southern side of the Borgo di Santa Croce. At the peak of his prestige, Tommaso must have felt the need to make clear the Spinelli's dominance of their neighbourhood, just as Rucellai had done in the area around Via della Vigna Nuova [fig.6-7]. The Palace is important in the history of Florentine domestic architecture for several reasons, mainly because it provides the best extant example of 15th century sgraffito work.[21] Yet the two vignettes on the west wall of the courtyard are particularly interesting: on the left, a nude man battles a lion [fig.8]; on the right, Cupid shoots arrows in a forest. Above, an arbour of rose and acanthus plants –here, both without thorns- might have alluded to the family name. Many elements of the vignettes could have been linked with the Spinelli’s public image. The thornless plants might have been a way of defending the family reputation, while the fructiferous trees in the background probably augured well for Tommaso’s commercial activities. The lion is similar to the one on the Spinelli family crest; the nude wrestler, instead, reminds of Heracles fighting with the Nemean lion. Heracles was also a symbol for the Florentine Republic, as he had appeared since 1281 on the city’s official seal [fig.9]. For Caferro-Jacks, the fruits hanging from the trees would even resemble the oranges which the Medici had conflated with their armorial palle [fig.10].[22] Although Tommaso surely wanted to emulate the extraordinary ascent of the Medici, the connection between oranges and palle seems a bit contrived, mainly because the palle probably came from the arms of the Arte del Cambio.[23]

Some further analysis would be necessary: for instance, how did the Reformation affect the art market in North Europe? How can we approach the question of heterogeneity among those who observed merchants’ chapels and palaces? Indeed, patrons’ motives varied depending on the place, time and individuals concerned.

Our original aim, however, was not to carry out such a broad study. Instead, this essay has pointed out that the motives behind businessmen’s art investments lied in a mixture of preoccupation for the future of their souls, their descendants and their names, piety, Humanist culture, pride in the social position they had reached and competition between families. Moreover, it has demonstrated that if the term ‘investment’ implies the idea of ‘making a profit’, merchants’ investments in art completely deserve to be considered as such. If Tommaso Spinelli and the Medici had acted in an ‘economically rational’ way and reinvested all their earnings in commercial activities, we would probably know far less about their families today: through ‘economically non-productive’ investments, instead, they have obtained the greatest imaginable profit, the ‘ricordatione perpetua fra le genti umane’.

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Document 9, 30, 31, 43 from Appendix II in Caferro, William and Jacks, Philip Joshua, The Spinelli of Florence: Fortunes of a Renaissance Merchant Family (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001).

Secondary Literature

Baxandall, Michael, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style (Oxford University Press 1988),

Brown, Judith C., ‘Prosperity or Hard Times in Renaissance Italy’, Renaissance Quarterly 42: 4 (1989), pp. 761-780.

Burke, Peter, The Italian Renaissance: Culture and Society in Italy (Cambridge: Polity Press 1987).

Burke, Jill, Changing Patrons: Social Identity and the Visual Arts in Renaissance Florence (Pennsylvania State University Press 2004).

Caferro, William, ‘The Silk Business of Tommaso Spinelli, Fiftheenth-Century Florentine Merchant and Papal Banker’, Renaissance Studies 10-4 (1996), pp. 417-39.

Caferro, William and Jacks, Philip Joshua, The Spinelli of Florence: Fortunes of a Renaissance Merchant Family (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press 2001).

Cardini, Francesco, ‘Le insegne laurenziane’, in Ventrone, Paola (ed.), Le temps revient, 'l tempo si rinuova: feste e spettacoli nella Firenze di Lorenzo il Magnifico (Milano 1992), pp. 55-74.

Esch, Arnold, ‘Economia ed arte: la dinamica del rapporto nella prospettiva dello storico. Prolusione’, in Cavaciocchi, Simonetta (ed.), Economia e arte secc. XIII-XVIII: Istituto internazionale di storia economica “F. Datini”, Atti della 33a Settimana di studi, 30 aprile - 4 maggio 2000 (Firenze 2002), pp. 21-49.

Kent, Francis W., Lorenzo de' Medici and the art of magnificence (Baltimore, London: Johns Hopkins University Press 2004).

Mack, Charles R., ‘Building a Florentine Palace: the Palazzo Spinelli’, Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 27:3 (1983), pp. 261-84.

Martines, Lauro, ‘The Renaissance and the Birth of Consumer Society’, Renaissance Quarterly 51: 1 (1998), pp. 193-203.

McKendrick, Neil, Brewer, John and Plumb, J. H., The birth of a consumer society: the commercialisation of eighteenth century Britain (London 1982).

Nelson, Jonathan K., ‘Memorial chapels in churches: The privatization and transformation of Sacred Spaces’, in Crum, Roger J. and Paoletti, John T., (eds.), Renaissance Florence: A Social History (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press 2006), pp. 353-375.

Nelson, Jonathan K. and Zeckhauser, Richard J., The Patron’s payoff: conspicuous commissions in Italian Renaissance Art (Princeton University Press 2008).

Nigro, Giampiero, Francesco di Marco Datini: The Man, the Merchant (Florence: Firenze University Press 2010).

Goldthwaite, Richard, The Building of Renaissance Florence (Baltimore and London 1980).

Goldthwaite, Richard, Wealth and the Demand for Art in Italy, 1300-1600 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 1995).

Goldthwaite, Richard, Ricchezza e domanda nel mercato dell’arte in Italia dal Trecento al Seicento (Unicopli 1996) .

Lopez, Robert S., ‘Hard Times and Investment in Culture’, in Ferguson, Wallace (ed.), The Renaissance: Six Essays (New York 1954), pp. 29-54.

Offman, Attilio, Crispo, M. B., and Grassi, Alberto (eds.), L'Ordine Costantiniano di San Giorgio. Storia, stemmi e Cavalieri (Parma 2002).

Rena, Sally, All Things Give God Glory: A Catholic Anthology (Great Britain 2005).

Saalman, Howard, ‘Tommaso Spinelli, Michelozzo, Manetti, and Rosselino’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Oct. 1966), pp. 151-164

Sapori, Armando, Studi di Storia Economica, Vol. 2 (Florence: G.C. Sansoni 1955).

Wackernagel, Martin, The world of the Florentine renaissance artist (Princeton 1981).

Images

Fig. 1: Coat of arms of the Spinelli family, First Cloister. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Coats_of_arms_of_the_House_of_Spinelli#/media/File:Primo_chiostro,_porta_di_bernardo_rossellino_2_stemma_spinelli.JPG

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 2: Coats of arms of the Spinelli family, First Cloister, on a pillar. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Coats_of_arms_of_the_House_of_Spinelli#/media/File:Primo_chiostro,_stemma_spinelli_su_pilastro_01.JPG

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 3: Coat of arms of the Spinelli family, Second Cloister. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:S._croce,_chiostro_del_rossellino,_tondi_14.JPG

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 4: The Last Judgment Triptych (closed), by Hans Memling (1467-71), Muzeum Narodowe, Gdansk. http://www.wga.hu/detail_s/m/memling/1early3/02last4.jpg The picture was removed due to copyright reasons.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 5: Façade, Santa Maria Novella, Florence (1279-1420). http://www.paradoxplace.com/Perspectives/Italian%20Images/images/Firenze/Santa%20Maria%20Novella/800/Top-Facade-Jul05-D1147sAR80.jpg

The picture was removed due to copyright reasons.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 6: Palazzo Spinelli. https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palazzo_Spinelli_%28Firenze%29#/media/File:Palazzo_spinelli_01.JPG

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 7: Palazzo Rucellai. https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palazzo_Rucellai#/media/File:Palazzo_Rucellai.JPG

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 8: Male wrestler with lion, Palazzo Spinelli, courtyard. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cortile_di_palazzo_spinelli_21_ercole_e_il_leone_nemeo.JPG

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 9: Official Seal of the Florentine Republic, 1281. https://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/797/flashcards/309797/jpg/881328314134540.jpg

The picture was removed due to copyright reasons.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 10: Coat of arms of the Medici family. http://bibliotecaestense.beniculturali.it/info/img/stemmiimg/001/001-0092.jpg

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The picture was removed due to copyright reasons.

[...]


[1] Francis William Kent, Lorenzo de' Medici and the art of magnificence (Baltimore, London: Johns Hopkins University Press 2004); Giampiero Nigro, Francesco di Marco Datini: the man, the merchant (Firenze 2010).

[2] Robert S. Lopez, ‘Hard Times and Investment in Culture’, in Wallace Ferguson (ed.), The Renaissance: Six Essays (New York 1954), pp. 29-54.

[3] Richard Goldthwaite, Ricchezza e domanda nel mercato dell’arte in Italia dal Trecento al Seicento (Unicopli 1996) , pp. 17-74.

[4] Neil McKendrick, John Brewer and J. H. Plumb, The birth of a consumer society: the commercialisation of eighteenth century Britain (London 1982), pp. 9-33.

[5] Armando Sapori, Studi di Storia Economica, Vol. 2 (Florence: G.C. Sansoni 1955), pp. 665-678.

[6] Peter Burke, The Italian Renaissance: Culture and Society in Italy (Cambridge: Polity Press 1987), pp. 98-100; Richard Goldthwaite, The Building of Renaissance Florence (Baltimore and London 1980), 397f.

[7] Marsilio Ficino, for instance, claimed that magnificence was the virtue par excellence (De Virtutibus morabilus 1457).

[8] William Caferro, ‘The Silk Business of Tommaso Spinelli, Fiftheenth-Century Florentine Merchant and Papal Banker’, Renaissance Studies 10-4 (1996), pp. 418-9.

[9] William Caferro and P. J. Jacks, The Spinelli of Florence: Fortunes of a Renaissance Merchant Family (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press 2001), doc. 9, p. 294.

[10] Sally Rena, All Things Give God Glory: A Catholic Anthology (Great Britain 2005), p. 84.

[11] Caferro and Jacks, The Spinelli of Florence: Fortunes of a Renaissance Merchant Family, doc. 30, p. 314.

[12] Ibid., p. 314.

[13] Ibid., doc. 31, p. 315; Jonathan K. Nelson, ‘Memorial chapels in churches: The privatization and transformation of Sacred Spaces’ in Roger J. Crum and John T. Paoletti (eds.), Renaissance Florence: A Social History (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press 2006), 353–75, 582–84.

[14] Caferro and Jacks, The Spinelli of Florence: Fortunes of a Renaissance Merchant Family, doc. 30, p. 315; Howard Saalman, ‘Tommaso Spinelli, Michelozzo, Manetti, and Rosselino’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Oct. 1966), pp. 158-160; Charles R. Mack, ‘Building a Florentine Palace: the Palazzo Spinelli’, Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 27:3 (1983), p. 264.

[15] Caferro and Jacks, The Spinelli of Florence: Fortunes of a Renaissance Merchant Family, doc. 43, p. 337: ‘ne potete sperare da Dio grande retributione in questo mondo e nel’altro, laude e ricordatione perpetua fra le genti umane’.

[16] Ibid., doc. 30, p. 314-5: the reported expenses amounted to more or less 6820 florins, a lot of money indeed.

[17] Martin Wackernagel, The world of the Florentine renaissance artist (Princeton 1981), p. 245n.

[18] Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style (Oxford University Press 1988), 2.

[19] Richard Goldthwaite, Wealth and the Demand for Art in Italy, 1300-1600 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), p. 200.

[20] Neither the Spinelli nor the Medici had much wealth at the beginning.

[21] Mack, ‘Building a Florentine Palace: the Palazzo Spinelli’, p. 264.

[22] Caferro and Jacks, The Spinelli of Florence: Fortunes of a Renaissance Merchant Family, p. 137.

[23] Attilio Offman, Michele Basile Crispo and Alberto Grassi (eds.), L'Ordine Costantiniano di San Giorgio. Storia, stemmi e Cavalieri (Parma 2002), p. 530.; Francesco Cardini, ‘Le insegne laurenziane’, in Paola Ventrone (ed.), Le temps revient, 'l tempo si rinuova: feste e spettacoli nella Firenze di Lorenzo il Magnifico (Milano 1992), p. 58.

Details

Seiten
11
Jahr
2016
Dateigröße
625 KB
Sprache
Englisch
Katalognummer
v334002
Institution / Hochschule
Durham University
Note
80
Schlagworte
history renaissance history of art spinelli family investments in art florence

Autor

Teilen

Zurück

Titel: Merchants and their Investment in Art. The case of the Spinelli Family