Capturing an Expanding World: The Growth of Luxury Trade and the Art of the Renaissance

  • 2016

Capturing an Expanding World: The Growth of Luxury Trade and the Art of the Renaissance

Author:
Brittany Gay
Abstract:

The Italian Renaissance of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries produced some of the world’s most beautiful pieces of art. The true power of art for the historian extends far beyond an appreciation of the beauty or an examination of changing techniques. Art did not develop in a vacuum but rather was a product of a complex series of social, economic, political, and intellectual factors. Failing to recognize and evaluate this wider context diminishes art’s historical value. Essentially, we deny the art its voice as a culturally-bound artifact. This essay presents a small sampling of the developments and trends in the study of Renaissance art. Following the developments of social history in the 1960s, historians began to examine how art influenced wider cultural and economic changes and vice versa. Art was a way for the Renaissance individual to send messages about their social power, political influence, and economic success to those around them. Due to its high cost, patronage was a luxury of the elite and rising merchant classes. Art became a repository of the dominant social values of the emergent urban-elite class that developed in the wake of the commercial revolution. As merchants, bankers, and traders gained wealth and political power, as a result of the luxury trade in the Mediterranean, they sought to emulate the culture of the old landed elite. As a result, their values set the new standard for the urban culture of art.