Pioneers of Art Patronage and Philanthropy: The House of Medici


October 9, 2014 | BY Hong Kong Tatler

The Uffizi, meaning “offices”, gallery was built in 1581, under the request of Granduca Francisco de' Medici. The space was originally intended for offices and was later evolved into an art museum displaying the collection and commission of artsworks by the House of Medici.

Bill Gates once said that his late mother used to remind him and his wife that “from those to whom much is given, much is expected”. They took what she said close to heart.  Through readings on Andrew Carnegie and John D Rockefeller, who were pioneers in bricks-and-mortar philanthropy, the Gates were inspired to found the “Giving Pledge”. Carnegie and Rockefeller spent half their lives amassing an immense fortune and the other half giving them away. These people do not only give money away – they become stewards of their own foundation and perform public good on a daily basis as a full time job for the rest of their lives.

Moreover, as a long time supporter of the arts, I am particularly interested in art patrons/philanthropists and recently revisited books and articles on the House of Medici.

I was thoroughly impressed by their legacy and contributions. Few would disagree the extent of influence the Medici family has made to art patronage and in particular Renaissance Art. There are lasting ripple effects, those of which have elevated them to a family of mystery and immortality.

The Coat of Arms of the House of Medici

In the 15th century, the House of Medici was a banking family and was considered to be the wealthiest clan in Europe. Not only did their art patronage enhance and further family fortunes and self-identity, the works that the family commissioned with local painters, sculptors and architects had changed the face of Florence, and put the city in the art map of the world. They turned private money to public good and lived up to the meaning of a true philanthropist – a "lover of mankind".

Furthermore, the House of Medici had become a precedent for the banking industry to involve heavily in support of arts and culture. Many banks have follow suit to this day and their art collections are part of their communications and branding strategy as well as a commitment to arts and heritage.