Woodcarvers, Butchers and the Patronage System in Arts and Sciences

Given the well known declining returns to science, a phenomenon that has been documented for decades now, but the continuing investment in science and scientists, it is interesting to think about the future. Does it look like arts in the Renaissance, where wealthy patrons funded it because it seemed like a noble thing to do, the the way the Gates Foundation does now? It seems awfully unlikely it continues on its current budgetary path given competing demands for state capital.

Anyway, something I was reading:

In the late fifteenth century, Florence had more woodcarvers than butchers, suggesting that art, even more than meat, was a necessity of life. This was true not only for the wealthy, but also for those of more modest means. In 1472, the city boasted 54 workshops for marble and stone; it employed 44 master gold- and silversmiths, and at least thirty master painters. Florence’s position in the wool and silk industries relied on its reputation for quality—a tradition of craftsmanship that made discerning patrons of its merchants and financiers.

Most commissions were for religious works. Many banking families, for example, viewed the funding of altarpieces and chapels as a kind of penance for usury (moneylending at interest), which was condemned by the church but inherent to their profession. As the 1400s progressed, however, patrons became increasingly interested in personal fame and worldly prestige. Lavish, even ostentatious, public display became more common, even as the fortunes of the city declined. New subjects from mythology found eager audiences impressed by such evidence of learning. And, by the end of the century—for the first time since antiquity—some art was being made simply “for art’s sake.”