The motivations for being a patron of art were different than the motives now and art was
valued for different reasons. Art was often in very public places, even if commissioned
by a wealthy individual, thus it served as a marker of wealth. Artists, and painters more
than sculptures, worked very closely under one person who would see the project from
start to finish, even if the work was being sponsored by an organization or more than one
person. The patrons usually drew up a contract (more or less formal because there was no
set way) that specified the amount of payment and when/how it would be paid (in
installments usually, and whether or not material costs were at the expense of the artist or
paid for separately), the amount of gold, silver and aquamarine colors to be used, and
what the painter is to paint (usually based on a previous drawing). The specifications
were often very specific including what grade of aquamarine paint was to be used (one,
two, or four florins/ounce).
Gold and ultramarine were used in order to point out the principal figures, but there were
also more subtle uses of these expensive materials (like in a biblical depiction of St.
Francis handing his gown, it was made of ultramarine). The contracts point to a
sophistication and ability to discriminate between the different blues that we now do not
have/is of no value to us.
Some artists did not work by a contract for each painting, some
artists (like Mantegna, who worked for a prince) were given a salary, although this
arrangement of a given salary was unusual. Even for those artists who worked for
princes, they usually were given a contract for each piece they made.
There was a big change during the 15th century, a shift from an emphasis on the
material and precious colors used to an emphasis on the skill in the artwork. Contracts
became less specific on the material, and eventually gold was only used on the frame.
There was less of an emphasis on flaunting “sheer opulence.” Baxandall suggested that
this had to do with people wanting to be dissociated from the newly rich, with the small
shortage of gold at the time, or maybe only a “fashionable reaction.” The way in which
the art then chose to display opulence simply became selective; there was a “conspicuous
consumption of something else – skill.”
The center of discussion of art in the early Renaissance became the difference between
the quality of material and the quality of skill. People began to praise an ability to show
shine and sheen through plain colors than through simply using expensive materials. In
order to see the transition in opulence from material to skill Baxandall explains the
importance of the money of painting. In the contracts patrons specified that there be a
landscape and not a gilt background, patrons began to pay artists according to the time
they spent on it (demanding for more of their skill), and paid more for the time of the