Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700


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I realized thus that economic his- tory, especially as it is practiced in Italy, could become an excellent tool of mediation, as it is traditionally sensitive to the demands of other fields of history while maintaining its ability to communicate with economists. Thus, the objectives of an undeniably ambitious research project were clarified in the light of some guiding principles: to note the changes and continuities over the long run, attempt a dialogue with the other social sciences, compare the different historiographic traditions, set out a comparative model, pose questions that could demonstrate national primacy, while at the same time continuing with the lively international debate.

On the contrary, in observing the Italian situation, I persuaded myself that that backbone had already supported the indus- trial takeoff—today we may say it—by mitigating the backlash of the violent postindustrial landing, from the moment that the recession of the last decade seems not to have hurt the creative industries, heirs of a tradition that is older than usually thought, and that rigid and noncommunicative disciplinary divisions have in fact obliterated.

To my eyes, as a young scholar, it seemed obvious that the Italy of fabrics, shoes, leather goods, fashion, architecture, furnishings, majolica, ceramics, goldsmithery, furs, car designers, builders, design, musical-instrument makers, makers of specialty papers and of high quality foods and wines, of Riva and Ferrari, had its economic, social, and cultural roots deep in the somewhat overlooked terrain of the art markets.

This hypothesis gained consensus over time. This network of territorial specializations would be the basis for the devel- opment of the districts of made in Italy of the later nineteenth century. These breaks had unfortunately provoked a lengthy schism that caused the activities involved in the art markets, presided over since the early s by the so-called artistic indus- tries, to be considered too industrial to merit the attention of art history and too artistic for the economic historians, causing a gap of equidistant disinterest at this crossroad.

Surely this was a missed occasion, since looking closely at the recomposition allows us to reconstruct the genealogies of important sectors of the Italian economy; the forms of trans- mission and migration of knowledge, know-how, and intangible assets; the mechanisms of development of organizational capacities; and more.


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If Marazzi is heir to the Este manufactur- ers, so is Beretta of the Sforza armorers, and many other players in contemporary industry are in a similar relation to the past. Besides historiographical interests, my curiosity was piqued by other phenomena, and even though I had begun my archival research, I continued to read economic literature for teaching and scholarly reasons and found it in some ways surprising.

The end of mass production and beginning of mass customization have in fact brought a reevaluation of the typical characteristics of goods and services that in the past were pro- duced, distributed, and consumed in the art markets: aesthetic property vies with services, consumption constructs and reveals individual identities and group physiognomies, and as the distances between rich and poor increase, the distinction is an imperative of the mass, while consumers become patrons whose behavioral logic evokes that of earlier collectors.

The premise behind this analysis is the extraordinary normality of the artistic presence in Italy, its lengthy and capillary diffusion and economic relevance. These elements do not justify a diminishing status, but call for a careful examination of the origins of these phenomena and the influence that they have had on the constitution of a specific productive system, on the perception of our identity in foreign countries, on the formation of tastes, talents, styles and sensibilities that are today recognized as factors of competitive advantage.

I think it is a fascinating prospect whose themes are arguable on the basis of documentary proof, and will provoke less uneven reactions than it might have a few years ago. The commonness of these words could be redeemed by the use of a more impersonal root, which would at the same time identify a mechanism and an entity with a given power, personality, and rules. To simplify: in the art-historical interpretations concerning high-quality products, the market has been perceived as a form of governing of transactions more suited to the mobiliza- tion of the historically sedimented artistic patrimony the stock of cultural heritage existing at a given time than to the generation of new streams of production.

Thus it is closer to collecting practices that look prevalently to acquire works from the past than to patronage that, tautologically, aims to support contemporary production. In this anonymous regime, the opposing parties trade fungible goods and services either bi- or plurilaterally with no constrictions or limits, using money as a means of exchange, and recognizing in the price the measure of the value of the equivalents sold, quantifiable and cumulative in virtue of the sameness of their distinguishing characteristics.

Even though it may seem paradoxical, the interest in these circuits, actors, and objects of exchange comes out of establishing that in this environment there remain rules, rationalities, and behaviors that are the mirror image of those that existed in the neoclassical markets.

This sense of otherness foreshadowed misunderstandings that have induced Joseph Koerner and Lisbet Rausing the former a historian of art, the latter of science to note: msu-guerzoniintro. Value is thus equated to price. Value is thus taken to be a relative and culturally specific category of thought particular to the observed subject.

Collecting Human Monsters: Guido Guerzoni on Human Diversity in Early Modern Science

Anthro- pological studies of marginal or non-Western people often set out to prove there exists no transcultural value of art. Out of this has come an asynchronic movement, since the avant-garde of art-historical studies has let itself be seduced and abandoned by the rear guard of economic historians: while the more heterodox economists elaborated innovative schemes, concepts, and instruments, the historians tested themselves against, and did not find themselves in, obsolete theoretic structures tied to old industrial concepts of mass-market and standard products and reined in by the oaths of obedience exacted by the more conservative schools.

A widespread sense of discomfort has followed, coming sometimes from undeniable lack of competence, and more often from the lack of a literature that would have aided the understanding of phenomena that at first glance seem off-key. But the case is really more complex than that, since in this instance there are diverse elements that denote the inadequacy of retro-application of neoclassic models. The outcome of the negotiations were different if princes or princesses, aristocrats or bourgeois, popes or cardinals, ecclesiastical establishments or monastic orders, merchants or financiers, men or women, Christians or non-Christians, local or international clientele, etc.

If that was the case, one butterfly, or one painting, would be enough. This is an important fact, as this figure does not include the permis- sions granted in , and in the period —, some 95 percent of the works were by unknown31 artists.

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Even having recognized the existence, beginning in the late Quattrocento, of systems of production, intermediation, and consumption similar to modern markets, the studies carried out on institutional, aristocratic, princely, and ecclesiastic demand have instead demonstrated that the quota of items treated by artists, merchants, or occasional mediators was minor, as other kinds of supply legal, paralegal, illegal, free, or forced were more common. Even in the presence of payment in cash, the exchange of goods thus signified from a symbolic and relational point of view almost never involved anonymous and unknown parties.

These had a title, a name, a surname, a face and a reputation, a gender and a religion, a profession, an institution to represent or a principal to conceal, earlier behavior more or less honest. But the identity of the protagonists and the circumstances in which the deals were conducted counted as much as the characteristics of the objects to be exchanged, originating in different solu- tions from time to time that for analytic ease or intellectual laziness can not be ascribed in a mechanical way to the opposing market vs. It would be good to get away from the simplicity of this antithesis that sometimes uncon- sciously influences many studies and concentrates, not by accident, on Venice and Genoa, Spanish Milan, and Naples under the viceroy, Florence before the principality, and Bologna during the seventeenth century, in the apparent conviction that the markets would develop in the contexts in which patronage, especially that of the courts, was weaker or absent.

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The true, authentic patronage should imply a personal relationship between the patron and the artist and the development of a sense of respect and protection, which is not related to the interest in obtaining this or that single artwork. These models and the infinite variations on the theme included in the broad spectrum of modes and solutions existing between the two extremes of market and patronage coexisted peacefully, perhaps involving different producers, products, and publics according to the cul- ture, economic possibilities and expectations, and above all registered continuous changes over the course of modern history.

The attempt to encapsulate the apparently confused florilegium of these forms of exchange and appropriation in the name of a misunderstood theoretical rigor msu-guerzoniintro.

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We need to see in the near future a patient job of recognition and mapping of the very ample cases of ways of selling, negotiating tactics, contractual forms, and commercial customs without letting ourselves be swept away by the desire to solidify schemes that would only take us back into the trap of making models for their own sakes. The list of practices, dealings, and solutions in the preceding pages is so vast and heterogeneous as to argue against strict categorizations or reductions to binomial contrasts: there are differences between the forced sale of a collection to a prince and a post mortem auction that must not be silenced or diminished.

Equally, one must deny the explicit or implicit teleology of development that more often than one might think recognizes in clientelage and patronage the condition of a primitive, imperfect, and underdeveloped stage of markets. It is true that there were informative asym- metries, contractual limits, assessment mismatchings, behavioral etiquettes, negotiating strategies, and sanctioning mechanisms that, in a historical vision attentive to the long term, were substantially different.

Prudence is necessary: otherwise almost all the phenomena that do not run on the double binary of economic and art-historic orthodoxy could be declassed as insignificant variants, an anachronistic flunking that arrives too late.

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Instead of forcing the mechanical transposition of a single model onto a multi- plicity of historically determined situations, some preferred to ascertain the characteristics of the sector, the circumstances of the negotiation, and the protagonists of the events, singling out only afterwards the best interpretative paradigm and allowing it equal heuristic dignity, as has happened in the brilliant investigations on reputation and trust,36 on the theory of the principal agent37 or on signaling,38 which have often seen the collaboration of economists and art historians.

I do not arrogate to myself the right to supply a reasonable answer to this question that has been debated for centuries by brains more refined than mine, but I cannot evade my duty to explain what I have included in the area of study and my motives for the inclusions, since I do not think that the study of art markets should limit itself to a couple of Titianesque masterpieces or a bronze by Giambologna. The artistic presence, broadly speaking, has permeated Italian soci- ety and culture in forms so diffuse as to require a broader reading that attempts to account for the articulation, extension, and superimposition of these relationships.

To try to put an end to these doubts, I have decided to retrace the stages of the debate that came of the coeval hierarchization of artistic forms, and from the actual conceptions of what the state of art was. A necessary passage, since these acquisitions represent the tormented results of centuries of discussion that were often held in eras later than those contemplated in my text.

The rigid opposition between liberal and mechanical, major and minor arts, the mind and the body, useful and not useful, as indeed the borders of the domain of the figurative arts, fine or visual, are the contributions of later aesthetic theorizing in which one can perceive his- tory and verify a chronology, avoiding the error of ascribing to earlier eras categorizations and methodologies conditioned by our sensations that are still post-Romantic, permeated with idealism and influenced by nineteenth-century currents. This is neither an exercise in style nor a historical overview, but a necessary step in proving that the actual separation, clearly subordinating, between art and craftsmanship is the result, msu-guerzoniintro.

It conserved up to the end of the seventeenth century the possibility of variously identifying an ability, a job, a profession, a theory, a treatise, a method,46 a collection, etc. Multiple signifiers only partially related, but in any case broader than what would be later attributed. In particular, in the most common sense, the term designated an ability: manual and hence the sense of craft intellectual or spiritual, that as such could be learned, refined, and taught.

Unfortunately, having before our eyes the damned faces and furious stares of many twentieth-century artists caressed by critics who have long since lost their subversive credibil- ity and are even sympathetic in their revolutionary claims, it can be difficult to believe that the artist as recently as the nineteenth century could be a satisfied bourgeois or honest craftsman, as modest as some artisans or as wild as others: de facto, with all necessary distinctions and more often than one might suppose, a craftsman. In this program, there is no trace of painting, sculpture, or architecture, while music was a theoretical subject and poetry was not easily separable from grammar and rhetoric, even if the absence may not be ascribed to an uncontested disdain as some historians have insisted.

Thus Robert Kilwardby and Domenico Gundisalvi suggested placing architecture and medicine among the liberal arts, while theatrica was defended by Bonaventure, Thomas of Aquinas, and Remigio. In these there is instead a tendency to demonstrate exactly the opposite, that is: that the mechanical arts have their architectores and that the inventive or creative work of these learned artificers is to be recognized and be valued equally with that undertaken by the masters of the liberal arts.

Thomas of Aquinas to follow the Stagirite and affirm that the arts producing useful objects by manual labor remained mechanical or servile. When the ancient sources were discovered and translated as early as the Trecento, these theses found convinced elements among the laity who were interested, for easily understood motives, in proving the social inferiority of artisans and criticizing those who practiced mer- chandising and exchange, the columns on which rested the fortunes, and not just economic, of many ordinary Italians.

Apollo & Vulcan :the art markets in Italy, /Guido Guerzoni. – National Library

In fact, over the course of seven chapters, we learn why economic history is still such a young discipline. The reader also discovers why conspicuous consumption became so important in fifteenth-century Italy, how princely families spent their money and what kind of return they expected for their expenditures chapters 3 and 4 , the factors of price formation, and, finally, the reasons that eventually led to the birth of cultural heritage centers and to the establishment of preservation laws.

Thus, Guerzoni sets the scene via an investigation into the diverse historiographical aspects serving as the foundation stones of his enquiry and via a substantial discussion of the Aristotelian principles of liberality, magnificence, and splendor underpinning the art consumption of princely courts in early modern Europe chapters 1 and 2.

The challenge is in the collecting and processing of the available data, for it is difficult to harvest the necessary information from contracts and inventories. Every region of Italy had its own customs and conventions, and the markets differed between republics and duchies. A range of currencies contribute to the confusion.

While philosophical treatises based on Aristotle and Aquinas discussed the respective merits of magnificence and splendor, they also debated whether the display of one or the other related more efficiently to the nobility of the patron 29— The discussion was started in classical antiquity and continued into early modern times. The Black Death of substantially dampened rising levels of conspicuous consumption and even managed to rein in patronal hubris in a religious context, something that sumptuary laws were not always able to do. Nonetheless, this economic setback was no more than an episode as competition and a culture of gift-giving soon pushed liberal spending to new degrees of generosity — If it is indeed possible to gather comparable data for an artistic shopping basket, these need to be constantly double-checked by the application of social, economic, societal, political, and religious factors in the context of a wider European market setting, in which kings failed to pay back their debts, wars might happen at any given moment, and crops could fail from one season to the next.

This is not to forget the continuous drain on available data by the destruction of archival documents sold to be pulped by the ton well into the twentieth century. So, if the history of the art markets is so difficult to write and economical historiography so beset with problems, why do it? What reasons could compel one to engage in a type of research that requires considerable preparation, knowledge, and connoisseurship to undertake an investigation that is bound to bring frustration at every step of the way?

For one thing, the history of the art markets is not simply a fashionable academic subject; the markets are alive if not always well, and the recent economic and banking crisis has given them an additional boost. Secondly, with hindsight—dangerous though that is—we live with the consequences of the early modern art markets Guerzoni describes so vividly for the period to And although we like to think of our own times as the first true age of globalization, the markets have always been international: patrons, artists, and works of art have long been itinerant; war booty and the second-hand market also added an extra dimension of internationality.

Professor Fabrizio Nevola

What becomes apparent in the book chapter 6 is that there is no single price system that fits all works of art. Why even continue? The answer to these questions lies in the work of individuals who imagine the future before us, and we call them artists. All rights reserved. Skip to main content. Photo courtesy the artist. Note 1 Guerzoni, Guido.

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Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700 Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700
Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700 Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700
Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700 Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700
Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700 Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700
Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700 Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700
Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700 Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700
Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700 Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700
Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700 Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700
Apollo and Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy, 1400-1700

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