Marks of Opulence: The Why, When and Where of Western Art 1000-1914

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9780002571005: Marks of Opulence: The Why, When and Where of Western Art 1000-1914

"The man who has money will always rule the man who has art...for starving men are weak." Colin Platt's book explores the connection between the great artistic patrons and the artists they commissioned from the Catholic Church in the 11th century to the birth of modernism. It looks at how the great and the rich have used art to bolster political power, ego and at the dependence of princes on great art and writing to shape and claim a historical legacy. The book also examines how changes in socio-economic conditions filter through to artistic endeavour, and why - at any particular time - art flourished in specific geographical locations. There have been patrons of genius in every century: Abbot Desiderius in the 11th, St Bernard in the 12th, Louis IX in the 13th. Tiny, seafaring Portugal has had three. The flourishing of European art is closely linked to periods of economic growth and to peace: in the 18th century, London took over as the commercial capital of the West. When Reynolds, Romney, Gainsborough, Stubbs and West were joined shortly afterwards by William Blake, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner, even the French had to acknowledge the excellence of British art - indisputably world class for the first time. The focus here, though, is pan-European not just British. Platt, whose book on medieval architecture won the Wolfson Prize, traces the history of European art from the discovery of silver in the Harz mountains, the catastrophic effects of plague in the 14th century, the grandiloquence and venality of papal and royal courts in 16th centuries, the art collections of Charles I and how they were disbursed during the English civil war, El Greco and Charles V, how art moved out of palaces and into the homes of bankers and traders in Holland and London during the 17th and 18th centuries, and the impact of revolution on art - both political and industrial. It is a survey of 1000 years of artistic endeavour in Western Europe, which argues throughout that money is the chief driver of high achievement in the arts, and demonstrates beyond dispute the transforming power of great riches.

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About the Author:

Colin Platt is Professor of Art History at Southampton University. He is the author of many books including King Death : A History of the Plague, The Architecture of Medieval Britain, which was awarded the Wolfson Prize for History, and the classic The Medieval Town. He lives in Hampshire.

From Publishers Weekly:

A scholar who was awarded the Wolfson Prize for History for 1990's The Architecture of Medieval Britain: A Social History, Platt focuses on the economic, political, religious and cultural factors that enabled the creation of art, tending to gloss over the art itself. The book proves repeatedly that, in the words of Philip Hamerton, "the man who has money will rule the man who has art" and examines how the Black Death, the French Revolution and other historical turning points affected art production. Initially, churches' stained glass and altarpieces comprised the entirety of the art world. Eventually, churches were adorned with frescoes, paintings and statuary, and still later, art began to be commissioned for civic beautification and decoration, as a status symbol or a political tool, as an investment and for private enjoyment. Platt assumes the reader is conversant in art history and familiar with myriad politicians and religious figures, and his abrupt references give the book a choppy feel and tend to muddy lines of argument. Casual readers may have trouble with this sweeping history, but specialists and those with an art history background will find Platt's work illuminating and relentlessly informative. 32 pages of color reproductions.
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