Most studies of Renaissance patronage in the arts deal with a particular patron and the artists who worked for him. John R. Spencer reverses this approach by focusing on one fifteenth-century Florentine artist, Andrea del Castagno, and his patrons. Combining social and art history, Spencer casts new light on both the career of Castagno and on the nature of art patronage in the early Renaissance. Through careful and detailed archival research, Spencer creates a fascinating portrait of Castagno's patronage as a web, at the center of which was Cosimo de' Medici, who constituted the focal point of a network of business partnerships, real estate transactions, loans, and special privileges in which the artist's patrons were enmeshed. The author constructs partial biographies of unknown and lesser-known patrons to show the relation of these patrons to each other and to the artist, demonstrating the degree to which artistic production in Renaissance Italy was tied to politics and economics. Spencer discusses each of Castagno's extant and some of his lost paintings, dating the works with greater accuracy than ever before.
His understanding of the patrons and of the motivations behind the commissions makes it possible for Spencer to bring new interpretations to many of these works. This book offers a deeper understanding of a particular artist's life and work while also exploring the larger question of the unique relationship between private patrons and independent artists in the Italian Renaissance.