08/04/05 - patronage

In today's excerpt - the mixed blessings that an artist receives by having a patron. In this case, an artist's life is disrupted—not for the better—when the French king favors him with a patronage:

"By the time of Louis XIV, private individuals as well as rulers felt an obligation—they 'owed it to themselves'—to care for art and support its makers. ... His aim was to make France supreme in the arts and in the crafts of luxury.

"Choosing the artists who were supposed to glorify the reign can hardly be a straightforward process, because choice is a cause of strife between cabals. One notable instance illustrates how uneasy the patron-artist relationship is, and why. In the late 1630's the French painter Poussin was living and working quietly in Rome. His renown reached Paris, and Louis XIII, possibly at Richelieu's suggestion, invited him to bestow his genius on his native land. The cardinal ordered Sublet de Noyers to conduct the negotiations. Poussin, valuing his comfort, had the good sense to decline, but he took a year and a half to do it, not wanting to seem ungrateful. Angered, M. de Noyers pointed out that the king 'had a long arm', meaning that his influence in Rome could be used to create (unspecified) trouble for the artist. Poussin gave in.

"In Paris, very definite trouble awaited him. To begin with, he was ordered to paint allegorical murals: his specialty was small works. True, he did paint subjects from history or mythology, but they were really pretexts for a classical dreamland, with a few figures and architectural fragments. Murals would have required large expanses of canvas showing many-sided action. Next, he was to decorate a long gallery in the Louvre, although he had never worked at architectural decorations. He went to work making sketches athletically but not peacefully. It seems the court wanted him to outdo Vouet, the painter favored by the town. Vouet's clique thereupon devised every sort of hindrance and embarrassment to get rid of the interloper from abroad.

"After a few months Poussin gave up the struggle, giving the excuse that his wife in Rome was ill and he must return."


Jacques Barzun


From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present


Harper Perennial


Copyright 2000 by Jacques Barzun


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