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Debra  Debra is offline
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Artist and Patron


Often discussion here turns to the question--how meaningful are all the details on the cards? For example, see Rosanne's recent thread on the Hermit.

I think that we might have differing ideas about the independence of the artist and how much leeway he has in making the images.

Two modern examples--the Rider Waite and the Crowley Thoth--raise questions about the relations between Pamela Colman Smith and AE Waite, and Frieda Harris and A. Crowley. For example, afficionados of the Thoth deck often suggest that all or most of the details were dictated by Crowley, with Harris doing the execution--composing, rendering, and painting. I don't know if this is historically accurate or if we could ever know for sure. (And not to diminish the difficulty and value of composition, rendering, and painting!)

In other words, a card might include some commonly recognized elements, some elements included for the sake of tradition, perhaps some as a nod to the patron and his interests, and even some ideosyncratic to the artist, because he likes them for whatever reason.

If the artist had a lot of independence, I'd expect the cards to be different than if he was working with detailed "specifications."

For decks like the Visconti's, I think it's worth consideriing if the patron gave specific directions, or more general directions with the expectation that the artist would flesh out the details on his own, or maybe just a general request (a deck of Triumphs, please!).

So maybe we could discuss this question specifically--not about individual cards, but if there is any evidence one way or another about the creative freedom of medieval artists to do as they please in some aspects of their work.

About which I know nothing, except that Medieval manuscript illuminators put all sorts of fanciful creatures in the margins, seemingly just for the joy and decoration they provide--nothing directly connected with the text at all.
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Thank you so much Debra!

It would seem from written household details, that early hand painted cards were ordered as in....please get me the best pack of cards called Trumps that you can source.

This indicates to me that the artist had free range with in the idea of what was a Trump deck.

For example in the execution of frescoes there appears to be a contract.
The contract states the completion date, the item, the theme.

In the case of Benozzo Gozzoli (The Chapel with the Procession of the Magi)
he was contracted to paint an altar piece with a predella in an elaborate frame to be finished by 1462. The Convent was called Compagnia della Purificazione in San Marco. He did not finish it and it was taken apart because the Nuns were not pleased with the result. This indicates to me much like Tarot cards to date- the artist paints them and if we do not like them- we do not buy them.
It would seem from what I have read that the Artist had an agent who would get commissions and tell the Artist the scope and direction of the piece, and off would go the artist to execute said commission. The Sistine Chapel would be one contract that is fairly well known. Michaelangelo was given the contract and it did not originally meet with approval; which to me is proof of individual license to paint with a scheme, but how you interpreted it. It really can be no other way.
I am going to get some better ideas together and post them here.
~Rosanne
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There is a clue to the process not only in this inquiry, but something I will come to later.

Kaplan cites the earliest written record showing a direct connection between Sforza and Triumphi cards from Lodi on the 11th of December 1450.

This is the translation...

Quote:
To Antonio Trecho, treasurer. As soon as this is received, we want you to send, by mail rider, two decks of Trump cards, of the finest you can find; and if you do not find said trumps, please send two other decks of playing cards, of the finest that there are. Do this so we have them here for all day Sunday, which will be the 13th of the Month....
It was signed by Sforza's secretary.
Now Lodi is between Milan and Cremona and Cremona is where Bonifacio Bembo's studio is and only about 20 k from Lodi. So it is likely that the rider could be back well before Sunday with the cards. He was, but he brought with him two packs of playing cards.

Now I would presume that these were stock items, and maybe Tarot hand-painted cards were stock items as well.
I would then wonder if a commission to paint some for Sforza, came along and there were some from earlier Visconti- the school or shop of Bembo then added in some Sforza devices as well. It then makes sense why there are both Visconti and Sforza devices on the PBM.
It would make one wonder if we should look to the school of Bembo for what was believed by them as to what Tarot was.

Another clue is that Sigismundo Malatesta another Mercenary, asked Bianca Sforza by mail for a deck of Triumphs and she was in Cremona. Now what sort of decks might appeal to Malatesta?
It would seem that Christian ones would not. In the Church or temple that Malatesta built in Rimini- there one Christian image is to be found. It is in a side Chapel dedicated to Soldiers- not in the the Main body of the Church at all. It is a Crucifix.
I have been into that Church. He was not a religious man at all.
Quote:
Due to the strong presence of elements referring to the Malatesta's history, and to Sigismondo Pandolfo himself (in particular, his lover Isotta), the church was considered by some contemporaries to be an exaltation of Paganism. Pope Pius II, Sigismondo's deadliest enemy, declared it as "full of pagan gods and profane things"
There is a chapel of the Planets, a Chapel of Childhood Games, a chapel with the Sybils, a chapel dedicated to St Jerome the saint of Soldiers with Malatesta kneeling in front of the Saint.A Chapel of the Zodiac, etc.
Would he not want an Astrological Tarot? Could that have been within Bonficacio Bembo's portfolio of cards?

Well until Debra suggested this thread- I have been looking at cards from their owners point of view. I think this way off mark.
~Rosanne
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http://100swallows.wordpress.com/200...ce-art-school/

Quote:
It seems reasonable to expect that among the remaining works of Bonifiacio Bembo there would exist some paintings, illustrations or frescoes that parallel the style and quality of the Tarrochi cards. However, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the style of Bembo's work and the variation executed by the hands of willing helpers in his workshop.
In the book Women and Men in Early Modern Venice by Satya Datta it talks about the workshops and how they were usually attached to homes for security and the fact that commissions were paid long after the works were finished, so they made other things for consumption. They formed bonds with various other artisans- like Gilders and Goldsmiths, paper makers, printers and illuminators and they kept model books of sketches to show Patrons (which were considered valuable) They made small reproductions of their popular works for the public and augmented their income this way, whilst waiting for Patrons to pay up.

It is becoming somewhat more clear that the cards commissioned by the Visconti may have had a broad outline (how ever many and theme)but the content was the style and form of the Artist concerned.
So I guess the Artist would have had to be familiar with the philosophy of the work. For example if a miniature was commissioned for a Marian missal- the Master would have to know what was needed symbolically for various Virgin Mary depictions. The Master then could leave the margins to apprentices to embellish.

~Rosanne
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Quote:
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is one of the world’s most famous paintings, but not everyone was happy with Michelangelo’s work. Cardinal Biagio de Cesena noted that the crowd of more than 300 human figures would be more appropriate in a wine shop than in a papal chapel. Michelangelo responded to this criticism by adding a portrait of Biagio among the figures of the damned in the scene of the Last Judgment.
Sounds like the Artist had certain freedom! Now that was not removed from the Last Judgment.

Now here is a comment on Music and Patronage, but has bearing on the subject of income for the artist versus the Patronage of Business. It also what might have happened when the printing press came along....

Quote:
Throughout history and likely well before it, in every culture in the world the human race has respected and supported their artists. Historically, much of the great art we revere was often the direct result of the support of a patron, or patrons, of that artist.
When the selling of a product took precedence over all other things, including culture, music became something to be sold as well. Before recording and mass-reproduction technology became available, live musicians and live music were still a nescessity. But with the ability to record and mass-produce copies of recordings, business found it much more profitable to sell millions of mass-produced units by fewer artists. The end result is the present situation, where a few massive corporations produce and sell as many unitsas possible from the least number of artists possible, to maximize their profits. Their goal is not to encourage artists, but to discourage and eliminate as many as possible, to focus the pubic's attention on the few remaining artists, thus selling the maximum number of mass-produced identical units. The channels for all mediums of expression grow narrower and narrower, focused on less and less variety of content produced by a smaller and smaller pool of talent.
This is a site that explains to me that the Artist controlled the style and the Patron either liked or did not like it, therefore hired him or not. The Artist appears to have traveled and influenced what was liked....so it was the artist not the Patron who evolved style within a broad commission.
http://www.wga.hu/tours/gothic/history.html

When the artist stayed at home and was not privy to other trends his work became provincial. So it seems that Artist had a great deal of Freedom to express his ideas within certain constraints- like the need for a Gold foil background as was 'usual'. If the Artist had completed his apprenticeship in a busy Metropolitan workshop he borrowed motif's from other artists, advanced his style, gained popular support which then drew the Patron toward him.
So it seems to me that in the case of the Hand-Painted cards that exist- this is the Artist not the patron who within a very broad contract constructs the cards to his own artistic knowledge.

~Rosanne
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Some patrons may have left things to their artists imagination, other were very exact about what they wanted. We have letters from patrons to artists, such as those of Isabella d'Este (to name one of a family we know were involved in the production of cards), with very detailed instructions:

Quote:
Isabella always knew exactly what she wanted and rarely took ‘no’ for an answer. She insisted on choosing the mythological subjects and the pictorial layouts she preferred in her pictures. Thus, her reputation as a manipulative micro-manager grew. It was Giovanni Bellini who wrote to her from Venice, "artists resent such strict directives, preferring to let their imagination roam". Resent it though they may, Isabella pestered her artists until, in the end, she won.

http://historicalbiographies.suite10...ces-first-lady
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True Kwaw, but you might agree that Giovanni Bellini knew enough to write and tell her that it was a restriction not usual or liked for an artist.

How widespread was the curtailing of freedom I have no idea.

It seems that Bembo had some artistic freedom?
I have been trying to find some contract examples. Not much luck so far.
My Italian is not proficient enough I think.

~Rosanne
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I came across something recently that may partially answer your question about how much artistic freedom Bembo had. It's in Brera: I Tarocchi il caso e la fortuna. This is a catalog of an exhibition curated by Sandrina Bandera in 1999 at the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan. The exhibit featured the three hand-painted decks commissioned by the Visconti and Sforza families and other art by Bonifacio Bembo.

On page 12 Bandera talks about how Francesco Sforza was a bit of a control freak. His dukedom contained 15 cities tighly bound up in a centralized, pyramid-type administration with all lines of communication and responsiblity eventually leading to the central office in Milan. His extremely detailed correspondence shows that even the most banal and insignificant details came to the duke's attention and were considered affairs of state. This style of micro-managing carried over into his artisitic commissions. He selected the artist and the subject matter, and the artist served at the Duke's pleasure. Art and politics were integrated, and art was used to promote the neo-feudal image Sforza wanted for his court. The Duke's correspondence shows that painting and politics were one and the same anywhere the Sforza's had a castle or stronghold. A tarot deck was commissioned for a particular official celebration like a wedding or state visit, and was an integral part of the duke's political strategy.

This suggests to me that the tarot images were carefully calibrated to send a specific message. If only we knew the occasion the decks were created for and the recipient.

Sherryl
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Thank you very much for this information. I see on Amazon it would cost me nearly $100 US....phew! for this catalogue.(second hand in Italian)

I will think about this.

It seems to say that the deck is considered having the Tradition and iconological aspects of the petrarchal origins. Very interesting.I am very interested in the fact that Art and politics were integral in Sforza's art view.
The deck seems like that. I have an interest in Straw Hats, and their political ramifications.

Thank you.
~Rosanne
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sherryl
On page 12 Bandera talks about how Francesco Sforza was a bit of a control freak. His dukedom contained 15 cities tighly bound up in a centralized, pyramid-type administration with all lines of communication and responsiblity eventually leading to the central office in Milan. His extremely detailed correspondence shows that even the most banal and insignificant details came to the duke's attention and were considered affairs of state. This style of micro-managing carried over into his artisitic commissions. He selected the artist and the subject matter, and the artist served at the Duke's pleasure.
I think it is difficult to say (also for Bandera) to which degree Sforza "personally" wrote all these letters.

A day had then 24 hours, as usually.

Sforza was splendid in organizing a few thousand men in the time, when he was condottiero and not duke. This was surely only possible, if he was able to delegate ... Sforza fought a lot of battles, but actually, he wasn't always present - that's easy to control at
http://www.condottieridiventura.it/t...oria/13001.htm

Concluding from the output of the chancellery on that, what Francesco Sforza really and personally did, seems not appropriate. It's known that Milan had a great technical organizer, Cicco Simonetta, later also working for Galeazzo and then Bona of Savoy, who was so mighty, that it was of interest for Lodovico Sforza to have this man killed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicco_Simonetta



Well, the boss of Coca-Cola also doesn't bring the bottles to the grocery-shop nearby ... personally. If you see a bottle there, it doesn't
mean that Santa Claus took a ride in the morning, even if you had seen him in TV last day. Rulers tend to "advertise", that they work very much, of course.

The Sforza letters of December 1450 likely have the background, that Sforza gave the commission to prepare the Christmas celebrations. "Cicco, please look, that we've some playing cards then ... and if you write to Milan, don't forget the matter with the corn" and Cicco said "yes, sir" and wrote (or more likely, he told the words to another writer and signed Cicco).

The cards were made in Cremona, Bianca Mari'a city. Playing cards, especially Trionfi cards "nice enough for the hands of a Queen", were "female business" as likely a lot of other smaller artistic commissions. In architecture and larger commissions surely the men participated.

Galeazzo Maria played chess and tennis, had tournaments, went hunting, had a capella.
The fresco with the Tarocchi players in Pavia was in the room, "where the women took their meals" ... in other words, the normal men even didn't see this picture.
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