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HSTY2647 Renaissance Italy: The Renaissance in Italy


In Renaissance Italy, the artisan occupied a different kind of position in ... ( And this is the case for most of central-northern Italy. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: HSTY2647 Renaissance Italy: The Renaissance in Italy

HSTY2647 Renaissance Italy The Renaissance in
Italy The Artisan Culture of the Early Renaissanc
Petrus Christus, Saint Eligius in his workshop
(Eligius was a goldsmith)
Relevant readings from your set texts
  • Gene A. Brucker. Renaissance Florence.
    University of California Press, 1969. Reprinted
    1983. 240-255.
  • Lauro Martines. Power and Imagination.
    City-States in Renaissance Italy. Johns Hopkins
    UP, 1979. Reprinted 1988. 244-249.

This lecture will investigate the role of the
artisan in the early Renaissance what kind of
position he occupies politically, economically
and socially. This issue has been of interest
lately, as the history of the non-elite has
become an area of intense study.
Recent studies of artisan culture have not alway
s turned up the kind of issues we would assume.
In Renaissance Italy, the artisan occupied a
different kind of position in society to the one
that we generally assign artisans today. They
dont have unlimited economic freedom but they
probably have access to an education and they
also often have political opportunities.
Socially, artisans can be the conduits of new and
important innovations (both artistic and
intellectual). There are issues that we need to
keep in mind with this kind of investigation
the most important is the kind of source that we
have to extrapolate information from. We have
- income tax returns (which allow us to work out
who artisans worked for) - personal memoirs writt
en by them (which allow us to get a sense of
their family life) - sometimes we have records of
commissions they carried out (or commissions
themselves, like work done in major buildings)
- we have records of guild meetings in which they
participate (which can help us figure out their
political role)
  • There are still things to consider the work
    artisans did is not necessarily regarded as art
    today, and therefore it has not always been
    considered worth preserving. This means a lot of
    artisanal products no longer survive (shoes, for
    example, or even the kind of intricate work done
    by woodworkers).
  • And what about someone like an orpellaio? He is
    definitely an artisan, but the job that he did
    (beating gold or working it into gold thread) was
    part of another enterprise (in this case, making
    silk). Records about his particular role in that
    process might be non-existent, or they may only
    tell us how much product he provided, how much it
    cost, and to whom it was provided. Theres some
    detective work involved and sometimes, there
    may not be anything.
  • Today we seem to think of artisans in one of two
    ways as modest workers (a vague idea) or as
    highly-specialised craftsmen.
  • In Renaissance Italy, the status of the artisan
    is quite different. Artisans are generally
    included in the guild structure, and therefore
    play a political role. If we think back to what
    we said about Medicean patronage, for example,
    artisans are an important group drawn into those
    networks they must have some kind of political
    clout for this to bring the Medici a civic
    return, as it were.
  • How does one become an artisan? Generally boys
    are born into a craft. There are a number of
    reasons for practising the same craft as your
    father, uncle or grandfather
  • - free in-house training
  • - the passing on of an important body of
    knowledge about a craft
  • - free guild membership (fees were waived for men
    whose fathers belonged to the guild)

Clockwise from below Domenico Ghirlandaio, Birth
of John the Baptist (1480s) Benedetto da Maiano,
pulpit in Santa Croce, Florence (1470s) Giovanni
della Robbia, lavabo (1498)
  • Its also part of family memorialisation
    continuing a family tradition and building a
    family profile (particularly if you are
    professionally successful). Thus certain families
    become associated with certain crafts
  • - the Ghirlandaio family are an important
    workshop of artists, for example
  • - the Della Robbia family have a tradition of
    working with terracotta
  • the Da Maiano brothers are sought-after
  • By continuing a family trade, you consolidate
    your familys identity. Nevertheless, boys do
    break away from the family profession to exercise
    a new craft education can give them the
    possibility of this (remember what we said about
    communal schools, last week). We said that
    Petrarch comes from a family of notaries, but
    doesnt practise similarly, Luca Della Robbia
    breaks away from family tradition and starts a
    successful ceramics workshop.
  • On all this, see Margaret Haines, Artisan Family
    Strategies Proposals for Research on the
    Families of Florentine Artists, Art, Memory, and
    Family in Renaissance Florence, ed. Giovanni
    Ciappelli and Patricia Lee Rubin (Cambridge
    Cambridge University Press, 2000), 163-175.

  • What about an artisans education? Communal
    schools were set up precisely for people like
    artisans sons. It was acknowledged that a) they
    would need certain skills for their profession
    (architects and sculptors need some knowledge of
    maths, for example) and that b) they would take
    an active part in the citys political life
    (which requires skills like rhetoric, and
    therefore basic Latin). Education also depends on
    the kind of guild your family belongs to if you
    are an orpellaio or gold beater, you belong to
    the Arte della Seta or Silk Guild, for example.
    This is one of the most important guilds in
    Florence, for example. So if you are destined for
    that guild, it is even more likely that you will
    attend school. (And this is the case for most of
    central-northern Italy.)
  • We can see this education in the way artisans
    work. Think about Marco Parentis description of
    a belt in the documents in your reader on art
    patronage. In order to design and then explain
    the imagery of that belt, Marco Parenti needed a
    high level of education. There were complicated
    allusions to classical imagery, a sophisticated
    design, etc. Some of these things would have been
    learned in the classroom (history and literature,
    for example) and some would have been picked up
    in the workshop (principles of design). A
    goldsmith who makes a complicated and intricate
    reliquary (object for putting a saints relics
    in) has to be able to sketch well, for example.

Compare a goldsmiths intricate church of the
belltower on Florences badia (left), with a
reliquary (below) good design skills are needed
for both
Santa Maria del Fiore, the Florentine cathedral
the artisans in the story of the Fat Woodworker
were all involved in its construction
And this work is respected we get a sense of
this respect in certain documents. Antonio
Manettis novella The Fat Woodworker is a good
example. A certain group of men in Florence
decide to convince their friend the fat
woodworker, a nice man but not necessarily very
quick on the uptake that he doesnt exist. They
put a careful plan into action where they
convince him that he isnt himself, that hes
actually somebody else! Not only does this stor
y give us a window into the psychology of the
time (here, one mans existential crisis!) it
also reveals to us how artisans interacted, what
kind of status they had, how they operated in and
were perceived by society. It is not just any
group of workers it includes some of the citys
most important and most well-respected artisans
working on the cathedral of Santa Maria del
Fiore, the most significant artistic and civic
project in this period. The citys best
architects and engineers, woodworkers,
stonemasons, painters, etc. were needed to
construct the building and decorate it
appropriately. When Manetti, the author,
describes this group of people he says there were
painters, goldsmiths, sculptors, woodworkers and
similar artisans. Among them was Filippo di Ser
Brunellesco i.e. Brunelleschi, the architect of
the cathedral. The suggestion here is that t
hese kind of artisans got together even though
they worked in different media and discussed
current projects. They know and respect one
another, professionally and socially.
Brunelleschi the most important architect of
his time is described as being very close
friends with the fat woodworker. Theres
obviously respect there perhaps a slight
difference in status and professional reputation
but these people associate with each other.
There is a professional camaraderie and respect.
  • This can translate to the kind of social role
    artisans play, too. Weve talked about
    confraternities (lay devotional organisations)
    at first these dont necessarily have one focus
    (i.e. people of the same status, people in the
    same economic position, people exercising the
    same trade). When confraternities do start to
    become more specialised over time (which they do
    throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth
    centuries), one of the first ways they start to
    concentrate on one thing is by profession. In
    Florence, we have the Compagnia di San Luca
    (confraternity of Saint Luke) set up as a
    confraternity for painters. Its starting to
    serve two functions a spiritual club, but also
    some kind of a professional organisation.
  • Geographically, artisans often occupy a
    particular place. There are different parts of
    the city where certain professions operate. The
    government legislated this probably for the sake
    of convenience but also to create a healthy sense
    of competition and to be able to keep an eye on
    people of a certain profession.
  • But certain trades congregated in certain areas
    of the city before this legislation anyway. It
    might depend on materials needed for a certain
    job those who worked with fabrics were
    frequently clustered around a river (in Tuscany,
    the Arno) because rivers were needed to produce
    the material. In Florence, butchers had to have
    their shops on the Ponte Vecchio, or old
    bridge, over the River Arno. Later on Grand Duke
    Cosimo decided that they were too noisy and
    dirty, and he had them moved off the bridge and
    replaced with the gold and silversmiths who are
    still there today. Previously they had had to
    operate in a small area near the Piazza
  • In Venice, glassworkers have to work on the
    island of Murano theyre not allowed to work
    anywhere else, so they end up living there too.
    See Dennis Romano, Patricians and Popolani The
    Social Foundations of the Venetian Renaissance
    State (Baltimore/London Johns Hopkins UP, 1987),
    chapter four, The World of Work, for an
    analysis of how artisans lived and worked in
    Renaissance Venice.

Above the Arno river, Florence. Below the Ponte
Vecchio or old bridge
  • On workshops, see John T. Paoletti and Gary M.
    Radke, Art in Renaissance Italy (London Laurence
    King, 2001), 27-41.
  • So in Florence, for example, the main artisanal
    professions (generally those that fall under the
    watchful eye of the big guilds) have to exercise
    their profession in a certain spot, usually a
    prominent one. This says something about the
    prestige of an individual profession and the
    power of that trade. But smaller guilds dont
    necessarily operate under the same restrictions.
    For this reason we have certain areas of the city
    that are very active as far as artisanal work
    goes it might be quite varied but its
    concentrated activity. One of the best examples
    of this is in the parish of San Frediano, in the
    Oltrarno (which means the other side of the Arno
    river), in the District of the Green Dragon.
    This neighbourhood is particularly interesting
    it has one or two important families, but also a
    lot of poorer, working-class families as well as
    professional or artisanal families. Theyre all
    living together and working together and as
    well consider in the second lecture helping
    one another out.
  • On this kind of a neighbourhood which does seem
    to be reasonably unique, as far is Florence is
    concerned, see Nicholas A. Eckstein, The District
    of the Green Dragon Neighbourhood Life and
    Social Change in Renaissance Florence (Florence
    Oischki, 1995).
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