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The Effect of Patronage on Art

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The relationship between patrons and artists greatly affects the art produced. The subject matter and size of works of art are two characteristics which are commonly prescribed by patrons. A patron would choose these parameters to accommodate the intended function of the work and to glorify the patron. In examining the Merode Altarpiece by Robert Campin and Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry by the Limbourg brothers, the influence of the patrons is apparent.

The Merode Altarpiece was commissioned by Peter Engelbrechts. This altarpiece depicts the Annunciation in the center panel, Joseph in the right panel, and the donors in the left panel. The annunciation scene was chosen because the patron’s last name, Engelbrechts, translates as “angel-bearer” from German. The wife of the patron came from the Schreinemacher family, which literally translates as “cabinet maker,” or “carpenter.” This explains the rather odd insertion of Joseph into this annunciation triptych—Campin is alluding to this family name by including a carpenter into the scene. The Merode Altarpiece was commissioned for private worship rather than placement in a church; therefore, the piece is only 25 ⅜ by 46 ⅜ inches in size.

Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry is a book of hours illuminated by the Limbourg brothers and commissioned by the Duke of Berry. On the January page of Tres Riches Heures, the Duke of Berry is depicted at a new year’s party. He is depicted wearing printed fabric, which would have been very expensive at the time when this book was painted, showing the Duke’s wealth. Behind the Duke is depicted a fireplace with a glow illuminating the Duke’s head. This glow alludes to the nimbus of the holy, implying that the Duke is blessed. The October page of this book of hours depicts peasants tilling soil happily and peacefully in front of the Louvre palace, implying that the Duke of Berry is such an outstanding ruler that even the most lowly of his servants

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