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How Did They Do It? Marketing in the 15th Century.

Vic Ritchey | Published on 4/29/2024
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How Did Marketing Work in the 15th Century

How did the past masters or any artist ever market themselves prior to the internet or computer age?  Did they have more time to paint without the aid of internet marketing?

Today, it is expected to not only produce work as an artist but also spend time marketing through social media sites like Facebook, blogs, various art related sites, personal websites, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram as well as handle the business side of art and still find enough time in the studio doing what is supposed to be the backbone of art, painting.  There are tons of places on the internet today on specialized Art Marketing tips and tools but does this make it easier or is it just more of a distraction?

In the past, masters like Michelangelo, Caravaggio, even DaVinci were patrons to the Catholic Church.  Their skills were in demand because of the work they did for the Church.  Many works were painted as Altarpieces and devotional objects.  The wealthy sought out their skills and commissioned them because they were steady and reliable artists.  Italy’s rising middle class during the 15th century sought to imitate the aristocracy and elevate their own status by purchasing art for their homes.  In addition to sacred images, many of these works portrayed domestic themes such as marriage, birth and the everyday life of the family.

Once these artists were established, I don’t think they needed to worry about ‘marketing’ through any means we have today.  Once they caught the eye of a particular Bishop or Church official, the word proceeded them in their career and they worked for the nobles and aristocracy of the time.  Jan Van Eyck, a Renaissance artist during the 15th century was one such artist who went from works for the Church to nobility.  He gained relative artistic freedom due to his work with the Flemish court and obtained commissions by wealthy patrons.

Today, art is a different story.  What used to be careers launched as artists were encouraged to do their craft, now must settle to a part-time ‘hobby’ and dream to make a full-time living from art.  Sometimes it seems that paint splashed on a canvas is more sought after in galleries then works with more thought and skill.   Contemporary or modern art takes the helm but hopefully, that will change as artist painting in a representational style begin to overshadow today’s contemporary appetite.

This new realm of an artist getting their works to appear before the public and to self-promote through social media sites like Facebook, (X)Twitter or Instagram is relatively new.  It’s not in the nature of an artist to ‘market’, ‘sale’, or ‘promote’.  Artists would rather just be in the studio and paint and let the business side to a representative or to a gallery.  The reality is that we must either pay someone to do this or do it ourselves.

We may long for the time and days long gone where we were able to paint and that is what sold us – but I wonder how many other artists during the Renaissance were just as wonderful but we don’t know about them, only because they did not have sponsors or had no way to market themselves like we do today.

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