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Patronage I: The Western World from Ancient Greece until 1900  
 
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Patronage--the sponsorship of artists and the commissioning of artistic projects from them--is of central importance to cultural history, although it has not yet received the attention it deserves. Throughout history, exceptional individuals have utilized wealth and political influence to foster artistic undertakings that in various ways challenged prevalent ideas about sexuality, gender, and other matters.

It is not possible to cover all manifestations of this phenomenon in a short essay; instead, a few case studies will be used to exemplify some of the ways that artistic patronage has been exploited from queer perspectives.

Sponsor Message.

How Does Patronage Function?

Patronage involves much more than simply "paying the bills." Patrons establish the goals and essential characteristics of projects, and they almost always insist on the right to supervise (or at least approve) all the stages involved in the realization of art works.

Patrons have been motivated by a wide variety of factors. In some cases, patrons are concerned simply with the production of art works that they find to be beautiful. However, major projects also often have broader social purposes, such as the commemoration of the achievements of an individual or organization or the promotion of religious beliefs or political causes. Therefore, in analyzing the goals of patronage, one must take into account the interests and experiences of those undertaking projects, as well as their social and cultural contexts.

Although the concept may suggest benevolent support for artists, patronage seldom has been disinterested. Moreover, before the fourteenth century, patronage in the western world was conducted with little or no regard for the concerns of artists, who were considered manual workers, charged with the realization of the plans of the patrons.

Indeed, accounts of artistic undertakings in the ancient and medieval periods often describe patrons as executing works, although they had no part in the physical creation of the art.

During the Renaissance era, artists began to be considered as uniquely gifted individuals. From this point on, patronage increasingly has involved more varied and complex types of interactions and negotiations with artists; nevertheless, those paying for the works generally have had the upper hand. At its best, however, patronage since the Renaissance has involved a close and mutually productive interaction between the parties involved in creation of art works.

Ancient Prototypes

In certain circumstances in ancient Greece and Rome, love could be celebrated in major public monuments. For example, the city of Athens commissioned the monumental sculptural group of Harmodius and Aristogeiton (marble copy of bronze original by Kritios and Nesiotes, 477 B.C.E.; Museo Archaelogico Nationale, Naples) to commemorate the heroism of this couple who sacrificed their lives in an attack upon tyranny in Athens in 514 B.C.E.

Their bold actions were inspired directly by their love for one another. They both attacked Hipparchus, the brother of dictator Hippias, when he attempted to seduce the beautiful and youthful Aristogeiton. In the ensuing fight, Harmodius and Hipparchus were both killed; subsequently, Aristogeiton was imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Athenians regarded the attack by Harmodius and Aristogeiton as a prelude to the successful revolt against tyranny in 510 B.C.E.; popular legend later transformed the couple into assassins of the dictator.

The sculptural group executed by Kritios and Nesiotes was commissioned to replace the original monument of 510 B.C.E., which was destroyed during the Persian invasion. Showing Harmodius and Aristogeiton striding forward side by side as they prepare to attack Hipparchus, the monument not only glorifies their actions, but also celebrates, in a more general sense, the love of comrades, which the ancient Greeks linked with military heroism.

As absolute rulers who were deified upon the deaths, Roman emperors enjoyed exceptional power in determining the subjects of public monuments. When his beloved Antinous (110/12-130) died by drowning during a state visit to Egypt, the grieving Emperor Hadrian (76-138) established a memorial city, Antinoopolis, on the Nile riverbank and erected statues of him throughout the empire; most of these are over life-size (up to eleven feet tall). Although the statues are in many ways idealized, they all record the pouting lips, considered to have been Antinous's most distinctive feature.

In recognition of the deification of Antinous, ordered by the emperor immediately after his death, many statues utilize the swaying pose, associated with Bacchus (god of wine and poetry), and incorporate that god's attributes, such as grape vines. Thus, the intense, sensual beauty of Antinous becomes conflated with that of his divine counterpart.

The monumental images of this beautiful youth challenged ideas about sexuality and gender pervasive in Roman society. Although "recreational" homosexual acts were tolerated and widely practiced, committed love was not ordinarily associated with them. Furthermore, great social stigma attached to passive sexual partners, who were consistently imagined to be "feminized" and younger than their partners. Hadrian's monuments to his younger, androgynous partner effectively flaunted a love that did not conform to Roman social norms.

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Four works commissioned by queer patrons (top to bottom):
1) A sculpture of Antinous created during the reign of his lover, Hadrian, Emperor of Rome.
2) The Lute Player (1596-1597) by Caravaggio commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte.
3) Philip IV in Brown and Silver (1623) by Diego Velázquez commissioned by King James VI and I.
4) The Sans Souci palace complex commissioned by Frederick the Great.

  
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