Ordering artwork in 1373

July 7th, 2006

I am reading The Merchant of Prato by Iris Origo. The life of the merchant (Francesco di Marco Datini: 1335-1410) was around the same time that Cennini Cennino wrote his Il Libro dell’Arte. This was a period when artists were considered craftsmen who worked for specific commissions. What I found interesting was this example of an order by the merchant for work to be done in Florence in 1373. It is not a direct commission to an artist, but a letter requesting a partner to order the pictures:

A panel of Our Lady on a background of fine gold with two doors, and a pedestal with ornaments and leaves, handsome and the wood well carved, making a fine show, with good and handsome figures by the best painter, with many figures. Let there be in the centre Our Lord on the Cross, or Our Lady, whomsoever you find–I care not, so that the figures be handsome and large, the best and finest you can purvey, and the cost no more than 5 1/2 or 6 1/2 florins. Also a panel of Our Lady in fine gold, of the same kind, but a little smaller, the cost 4 florins, but no more. These two panels must contain good figures: I need them for men who would have them fine.

In some sense these seem like constraining directions that would limit the artist’s creativity. But in fact, the carving and gilding aside, the descriptions given for these pictures could apply to any of hundred of paintings made over several centuries in a wide array of styles.

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2 Responses to “Ordering artwork in 1373”

  1. Angela Says:

    Commissions were always a challenge throughout time for artists. I have to say that limits the artist own creativity but sometimes it pushes the artist further to see and develop new ways of thinking and painting.
    I’ve studied artists like Oskar Kokoschka for example whose commissioned works were considered too outrageous and being even refused to be paid only to be considered a masterpiece of an expressionist trend years later.

  2. Angela Ferreira Says:

    I have just posted one of my own commissions in my blog; it would be interesting perhaps to see how much ordering an artwork hasn’t change much throughout the years.