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From Virgil to Beyoncé: 5 Great Moments of Artistic Patronage

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Throughout the centuries, the patronage system has allowed for the redistribution of wealth from the business class to the creative class—the members of which were often assumed to be starving and in need of such redistribution. The basic conceit is that a wealthy individual, family, or business pays the living wages of a playwright, musician or artist (often providing food and shelter) so that person can concentrate solely on their creation. In return, the artist often dedicates their works to their patron. In this way, the business arrangement has the potential to make both parties immortal.

This week, the New York Times wrote about a modern iteration of patronage—one between a large corporation and an already very successful musical artist. Pepsi and singer Beyoncé have struck a $50 million deal, which includes a “creative content development fund,” for Beyoncé’s various endeavors. Why not just pay Beyoncé for traditional advertising wherein her face appears on billboards and she shakes her booty in a commercial or two? “This way feels less polluting. It feels like there are more good things around it. It creates an all-around good will,” explains behavioral economist Dan Ariely, the author of The Upside of Irrationality.

The downside is, of course, that art and consumerism become intertwined—but history teaches us that, for better or worse, art and business have always been intrinsically combined, often to aid the creation of timeless masterpieces. Here are a few examples.

1. Gaius Maecenas/Horace, Virgil


Virgil. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

During the golden age of Latin literature, the Roman diplomat Maecenas was a benefactor of poets Horace and Virgil. His endowments to the men allowed for the writing of Virgil’s "The Georgics" and Horace’s "Satires 1," "Epistles 1," and "Odes 1-3." It is unclear how Virgil first came to meet Horace, but scholars believe he was the one who introduced the statesman to Horace, the son of a freed slave. It is also believed that Virgil composed his didactic poem about agriculture and public life, "The Georgics" (a seven-year undertaking), under order from Maecenas, who wished to see the Roman Empire return to a more traditional bucolic lifestyle.

Horace did much of his writing at a small estate with eight slaves and five tenanted properties called the Sabine Farm, gifted to him by Maecenas. The farm gave Horace the security to continue his writings in peace, and in return Horace addressed the first book of each of his series, Satires, Epistles and Odes, to his benefactor.

2. The Medici Family/Michelangelo


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The politician and businessman Lorenzo de' Medici (humbly nicknamed Lorenzo the Magnificent) was famous for inviting artists to live in his Florentine palace while they were under his patronage.

Michelangelo was likely introduced to the patron by his sculpting teacher, who was part of the Medici creative cabal at the time. The 15-year-old, who would later go on to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, moved into the palace in 1490. In addition to giving him housing, Lorenzo provided the teenager with a stipend and gave his dad a job as a house clerk. Michelangelo was raised among Lorenzo’s children and nephews, two of whom later became Popes (Leo X and Clement VII). It is a boon to grow up in proximity to the powerful: both men later employed the artist for various projects around the Vatican.

3. Isabella d’Este/Leonardo da Vinci


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Perhaps the most well-connected woman in Renaissance Italy, Isabella d'Este was the patron of the artists Mantegna, Titian and Leonardo da Vinci. At some point she commissioned each of the men to paint her portrait. She is well known as Leonardo's muse, and her portraits look strikingly similar to his best-known piece, hanging in the Louvre today.

4. Queen Elizabeth/Shakespeare


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Queen Elizabeth’s devotion to England’s most famous playwright is so well known it has become the sub-plot of several award-winning movies. In reality, the Queen was a devoted fan of the theatre and a generous supporter of Shakespeare’s work. In return, he immortalized the virgin Queen in his works, most notably as the “fair vestal throned by the West” in A Midsummer-Night’s Dream.

5. Pepsi/Beyoncé


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Pepsi's $50 million patronage of Beyoncé is expected to provide the singer and clothing designer—who earns approximately $40 million a year—with the ability to pursue creative endeavors free from the shackles and constraints of the market. “Pepsi embraces creativity and understands that artists evolve,” Beyoncé said in a statement to the Times. “As a businesswoman, this allows me to work with a lifestyle brand with no compromise and without sacrificing my creativity.”

In return for their generosity, the soda brand has already announced they will put the singer’s face on a series of limited edition soda cans and that she will appear in a new television ad.

Other things that could be financed through Pepsi’s “Beyoncé fund” could include live events, videos, or a “cool photo shoot,” as Lee Anne Callahan-Longo, the general manager of Beyoncé’s company Parkwood Entertainment, told the Times.

Instead of a farm or a roof over her head, Beyoncé is getting the gift of limited but generous resources and the ability to get a little bit wacky with how she represents Pepsi. You’re in good company in the annals of history, B. We’re expecting no less than a 21st Century Mona Lisa in sequins.

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The Getty Center, Surrounded By Wildfires, Will Leave Its Art Where It Is
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The wildfires sweeping through California have left countless homeowners and businesses scrambling as the blazes continue to grow out of control in various locations throughout the state. While art lovers worried when they heard that Los Angeles's Getty Center would be closing its doors this week, as the fires closed part of the 405 Freeway, there was a bit of good news. According to museum officials, the priceless works housed inside the famed Getty Center are said to be perfectly secure and won't need to be evacuated from the facility.

“The safest place for the art is right here at the Getty,” Ron Hartwig, the Getty’s vice president of communications, told the Los Angeles Times. According to its website, the museum was closed on December 5 and December 6 “to protect the collections from smoke from fires in the region,” but as of now, the art inside is staying put.

Though every museum has its own way of protecting the priceless works inside it, the Los Angeles Times notes that the Getty Center was constructed in such a way as to protect its contents from the very kind of emergency it's currently facing. The air throughout the gallery is filtered by a system that forces it out, rather than a filtration method which would bring air in. This system will keep the smoke and air pollutants from getting into the facility, and by closing the museum this week, the Getty is preventing the harmful air from entering the building through any open doors.

There is also a water tank at the facility that holds 1 million gallons in reserve for just such an occasion, and any brush on the property is routinely cleared away to prevent the likelihood of a fire spreading. The Getty Villa, a separate campus located in the Pacific Palisades off the Pacific Coast Highway, was also closed out of concern for air quality this week.

The museum is currently working with the police and fire departments in the area to determine the need for future closures and the evacuation of any personnel. So far, the fires have claimed more than 83,000 acres of land, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people and the temporary closure of I-405, which runs right alongside the Getty near Los Angeles’s Bel-Air neighborhood.

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This 77-Year-Old Artist Saves Money on Art Supplies by 'Painting' in Microsoft Excel
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It takes a lot of creativity to turn a blank canvas into an inspired work of art. Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi makes his pictures out of something that’s even more dull than a white page: an empty spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.

When he retired, the 77-year-old Horiuchi, whose work was recently spotlighted by Great Big Story, decided he wanted to get into art. At the time, he was hesitant to spend money on painting supplies or even computer software, though, so he began experimenting with one of the programs that was already at his disposal.

Horiuchi's unique “painting” method shows that in the right hands, Excel’s graph-building features can be used to bring colorful landscapes to life. The tranquil ponds, dense forests, and blossoming flowers in his art are made by drawing shapes with the software's line tool, then adding shading with the bucket tool.

Since picking up the hobby in the 2000s, Horiuchi has been awarded multiple prizes for his creative work with Excel. Let that be inspiration for Microsoft loyalists who are still broken up about the death of Paint.

You can get a behind-the-scenes look at the artist's process in the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

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