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The Patron's Payoff:
Conspicuous Commissions in Italian Renaissance Art
Jonathan K. Nelson & Richard J. Zeckhauser
With a foreword by Michael Spence

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2009

Paperback | 2014 | $24.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691161945
256 pp. | 7 x 10 | 51 halftones.
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In The Patron's Payoff, Jonathan Nelson and Richard Zeckhauser apply the innovative methods of information economics to the study of art. Their findings, written in highly accessible prose, are surprising and important. Building on three economic concepts--signaling, signposting, and stretching--the book develops the first systematic methodology for assessing the meaning of art patronage and provides a broad and useful framework for understanding how works of art functioned in Renaissance Italy.

The authors discuss how patrons used conspicuous commissions to establish and signal their wealth and status, and the book explores the impact that individual works had on society. The ways in which artists met their patrons' needs for self-promotion dramatically affected the nature and appearance of paintings, sculptures, and buildings. The Patron's Payoff presents a new conceptual structure that allows readers to explore the relationships among the main players in the commissioning game--patrons, artists, and audiences--and to understand how commissioned art transmits information. This book facilitates comparisons of art from different periods and shows the interplay of artists and patrons working to produce mutual benefits subject to an array of limiting factors. The authors engage several art historians to look at what economic models reveal about the material culture of Italy, ca. 1300�1600, and beyond. Their case studies address such topics as private chapels and their decorations, donor portraits, and private palaces.

In addition to the authors, the contributors are Molly Bourne, Kelley Helmstutler Di Dio, Thomas J. Loughman, and Larry Silver.


"[E]nlightening."--Times Literary Supplement

"But the basic point of this book--that a careful study of economic and related social needs can help us further understand the genesis of many works of visual culture--is undeniable, and the editors' and authors' cogent presentation of the possibilities inherent in their approach is masterful. Recognizing the motivations of elites expands our understanding of the roles that visual works could play during the period we now identify as the Italian Renaissance. As a reviewer I congratulate Nelson and Zeckhauser, while continuing to lament art history's inability--in the Renaissance at least--to gain access to a broader understanding of the diverse society and complex and subtle culture that supported the production of these works."--David G. Wilkins, CAA Reviews

"In The Patron's Payoff, art historian Jonathan K. Nelson and economist Richard J. Zeckhauser have harnessed their separate disciplines into a new analytical key for understanding the linked motivations of patron and artist or architect in conspicuous commissions. . . . No less than the American financier who donates a museum wing on condition it bears his name, or the merchandiser who endows a university institute named for him, the results of Renaissance patronage had to be, first of all, highly visible."--Judith Harris, California Literary Review

"Nelson and Zeckhauser offer historians of art and culture a powerful method for appraising the driving force behind works of art commissioned in the Renaissance. . . . The Patron's Payoff offers and innovative and potent tool for probing how works of art functioned in Renaissance social life."--Michelle O'Malley, Renaissance Quarterly

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