Luxury Arts of the Renaissance
Today we associate the Renaissance with painting, sculpture, and architecture—the “major” arts. Yet contemporaries often held the “minor” arts—gem-studded goldwork, richly embellished armor, splendid tapestries and embroideries, music, and ephemeral multi-media spectacles—in much higher esteem. Isabella d’Este, Marchesa of Mantua, was typical of the Italian nobility: she bequeathed to her children precious stone vases mounted in gold, engraved gems, ivories, and antique bronzes and marbles; her favorite ladies-in-waiting, by contrast, received mere paintings. Renaissance patrons and observers extolled finely wrought luxury artifacts for their exquisite craftsmanship and the symbolic capital of their components; paintings and sculptures in modest materials, although discussed by some literati, were of lesser consequence.
This book endeavors to return to the mainstream material long marginalized as a result of historical and ideological biases of the intervening centuries. The author analyzes how luxury arts went from being lofty markers of ascendancy and discernment in the Renaissance to being dismissed as “decorative” or “minor” arts—extravagant trinkets of the rich unworthy of the status of Art. Then, by re-examining the objects themselves and their uses in their day, she shows how sumptuous creations constructed the world and taste of Renaissance women and men.