Patronage in the Renaissance
The patronage system of early modern Europe decided appointments to offices in church and state and was a dominant force in cultural life. Patronage started with the prince and spread downward through courtiers to their own circle of dependents. Grants, patents, offices, and financial rewards flowed through interlocking networks of personal relationships: patrons were often themselves intermediary figures, bestowing favors while at the same time serving as the clients of those higher in the hierarchy. So ubiquitous is patronage in the Renaissance world that the term has been stretched to embrace disparate practices. A patron might be an individual (monarch, prince, aristocrat, cardinal), a family, or a corporation (guild, monastery, confraternity, city council), with multiple overlap between these types. Acts of patronage cover arrangements from the nepotistic assignment of government contracts to the commissioning of altarpieces and the provision of time and opportunity for the exercise of scholarly labors. Motives and perceived benefits for the patron were varied. Instances of patronage in the cultural field range from a relatively simple contracted job to long-drawn-out personal relationships involving familial proximity, political allegiance, and binding customs such as ritual gift exchange.
The arrangements of patronage certainly influenced cultural production and social behavior. In order to win favor from their superiors, aspirants to patronage often emulated courtly manners, cultivating the appropriate fashions, tastes, and mannerisms. An artist or intellectual patronized by a court thereby obtained a certain status and a connection to peers, and these arrangements could flow back into the work. At the same time, a patron might be a useful bulwark behind which dangerous ideas could be explored (as in the case of Hobbes; Sarasohn 1999). Writers sought individual patrons to reward their works, and patrons gained prestige through association with virtuosic artistic and intellectual achievements. Works of art and books took on significance as material objects, signifying the qualities of their owner and signaling subtle messages of power and prestige. Patrons may have operated for their own political interests, but could equally exercise taste and discernment, taking a part in the creative process itself. Through patronage, philosophy remained closely tied to civic and political life; even if desired, the ivory tower removed from worldly activity was rarely available to the Renaissance philosopher.
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