The study of Renaissance art has tended to concentrate on painting, sculpture and architecture. More recently, the focus has shifted to the so-called 'minor' arts, the study of which, however, is still in its infancy, even among specialists. Objects of Virtue explores the multiple meanings and values of the objects with which families like the Medici, Este and Gonzaga surrounded themselves. It examines, for the first time, the complicated relationships between the 'fine arts' - paintings and sculpture - and artefacts of other kinds for which artistry might be as important as utility - furniture, jewellery, and vessels made of gold, silver and bronze, precious and semiprecious stone, glass and ceramic. The works explored were designed and made by artists as famous as Pisanello, Mantegna, Giulio Romano and Michelangelo, as well as by lesser-known specialists - goldsmiths, gem-engravers, glassmakers and maiolica painters. The ways in which Renaissance art objects were read was determined by an alliance of interests. nOn the one hand, members of a wealthy elite were attempting to distinguish themselves from ordinary mortals through their buying, and, on the other, the commentators (often in the pockets of the elite) were both moulding and reflecting their choices. It was not enough that these objects were expensive. Their interpretation was shaped by the study of the glories of ancient Greece and Rome, and scholars worked hard to present the buying of art objects in the best possible light. They could do so only if goods were of the right kind; they had to be magnificent or splendid, while leaving room for the appreciation of their aesthetic qualities and the talent and art of their makers.
British Museum Press
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