Patronage, not to confused with the similar word patronize, is the support of art by a patron, the patron being the one who pays the bills so to speak. In renaissance Italy, art patronage was everything to the elite. Whether they were paying for sculptures, architecture or painting, patronage was in reality a tool for social and political gain. Today, art isn’t often commissioned; instead it is made and sold like other products. However, every once in a while a patronage will reveal itself like it did in Cincinnati in 2000 with an event called the Big Pig Gig.
In both past and present, patronage plays a role in more aspects than just art itself. Florence during the renaissance was the place to be. A cultural revolution pulled Florence and the majority of Europe from the medieval era into a new one with humanistic ideals. Art flourished during this time period through a system of patronage networks. Patronage was a social institution practiced throughout Europe for centuries. During the 15th century it reached a peak. In Florence, early patronage was associated with the church, which was a result of the powerful episcopal political influence in central Italy.
Patronage was not an “option. ” “Patronage is great for the production of art, but totally irrational from an economic point of view. Patronage is a political strategy”(Medici:Godfathers). It was the key to social and political status. For example, Cosimo de Medici commissioned Filipo Brunelleschi, arguably one of the greatest architects of all time, to build a beautiful orphanage. Considered one of the first buildings of the renaissance, it is built with roman arches and classical columns. But why waste such a brilliant mind and beautiful design on a public orphanage?
Because what looks better to the people than helping the children. Cosimo gained social standing and with that political standing. How could the people deny a leader who will spend florins to help those less fortunate? Brunelleschi also completed the dome on top of the cathedral, which had been a source of embarrassment for the church and the city of Florence. “The dome towered majestically over the city of Florence, a triumph for the Florentine people and the city’s most powerful family [The Medici] ” (Medici:Godfathers).
Again, Cosimo has used art, more specifically architecture to improve the city and his own status. Architecture was not the only way the Medici furthered themselves through patronage. They commissioned sculptures and paintings from the likes of Donatello, Botticelli Leonardo and many other greats of the era. Through these new and innovative creations, social and political status was achieved and a mark was left on the city. No one would forget the Medici. As Cosimo stated, “I know the humors of my city, before 50 years have passed we shall be expelled, but my buildings will remain. ” If he only he knew how long.
Centuries later in the city of Cincinnati, the art community was a buzz. “Tamara Harkavy, director of Cincinnati-based Artworks, is helping launch what may be Greater Cincinnati’s largest public art project next spring” (Stein). And so began the Big Pig Gig. Artists would be paid to paint pigs for Cincinnati and surrounding areas, 250 or more of them. Sponsors were putting in big money to have pig sculptures decorated and placed. Sound familiar? What a resounding example of modern day patronage, though now it was more likely to be businesses instead of families commissioning the pigs.
There are, of course, a multitude of differences between the cultural revolution of the renaissance and the pig take over of Cincinnati, but similarities are there. Artists were solicited for the Porkoplis art. Though it is not a competition, this is similar to the one held by the Merchant’s guild of Florence to decorate the east doors of the Baptistery. A difference lies though in the patrons. Instead of an individual or a family or a guild finding an artist they enjoy and commissioning them to do a piece, companies were also solicited to buy the pigs as the whole operation was run by (but not paid for) Artworks.
The companies did however get to choose their artists, though it was from a list. Another similaritt lies in the depiction of the patrons within the art. “Botticelli’s painting [Procession of the Magi] celebrated Cosimo il Vecchio, Piero il Gottoso, Giuliano de’Medici and his brother Lorenzo, all gathered around the Holy Family” (Medici: Godfathers). Patrons in the renaissance were often inserted into the art they had commissioned because it allowed the masses to know who had ordered such a piece. As discussed earlier, this was for social and political gain.
The pigs for the gig of course could not be done in exactly the same way. “No advertising or commercial messages are allowed on pigs, but a nameplate on the platform will identify the purchaser and the artist” (Findsen). Though only a nameplate, what better way to show the people you care than to have their city decorated with fun sculptures of playful pigs? Though it cannot be said for sure, it can alleged that perhaps those buying for the Big Pig Big were not doing so just to beautify the city. And like Cosimo buying an orphanage, pigs were bought for school children to paint.
Another show for the public perhaps, but at least a good one. T he last similarity lies in the reasoning behind the art. In the 1830s, Cincinnati was dubbed Porkoplis for it’s huge roaming pig population. “The Big Pig Gig is an effort to put more pigs in downtown Cincinnati, Newport and Covington than there were in the 1830s” (Findsen). Like the Medici, and other families of the renaissance, Cincinnati wanted to revive some of its past. Pigs may not seem nearly as important as the ruins of ancient Rome in Florence, but humanity thrives on its cultural heritage.
Unlike the renaissance, there were no scandals involving the church or homosexuality during the Big Pig Gig. It was decisively less of a game and more for the city than the patronage of the past, but it was nonetheless a fine example of modern day artistic benefaction. Regardless, of the meaning behind it, without the support of art we would be living in much more drab world. And who knows, maybe in the future, another civilization will look back at Cincinnati and other cities works of art and as a new kind of artistic revolution.