File spoon-archives/avant-garde.archive/avant-garde_1996/96-11-03.013, message 7


Date: Sat, 7 Sep 1996 14:30:47 GMT
Subject: Rat Art 2


   Financial Times, September 7, 1996, p. XVIII. 
 
 
   Money as the root of all art 
 
   What was true of the Renaissance is still true today, Lisa 
   Jardine tells Christian Tyler. It's the fat cats who make 
   the art world go round 
 
 
   Who made the European Renaissance? Scholars, scientists, 
   artists? No, says Professor Lisa Jardine, it was the fat 
   cats who made it -- bankers, traders, dukes and cardinals. 
 
   With her book, *Worldly Goods*, the London University 
   professor claims to have cut a 19th century umbilical cord 
   to the Renaissance and broken the mirror held up by 
   scholars such as Jacob Burckhardt. She accuses him of 
   stamping the Renaissance with the colours of Germanic 
   idealism, making it "pure and untainted by money or greed" 
   -- and "comfortably Aryan". 
 
   Is she telling the real story? Or is she trying to shock by 
   giving that revered episode of European history, a 
   mischievously modern, consumerist spin? The author was 
   radiating a south of France tan and a pair of neon-red 
   sandals when I met her in her trendy Bloomsbury flat. The 
   answer, she said cheerfully, is both. But did not 
   Burckhardt also recognise the importance of patronage? 
 
   "Patron implies a person of delicate sensibility who finds 
   a like mind in the artist," she replied. "I prefer the word 
   'employer'." 
 
   Was not Cosimo de'Medici (who founded the Platonic Academy 
   in Florence) a person of sensibility? "Well, I would ask 
   how you know. Here was a very wealthy banker, who made 
   money wheeler-dealing around Europe. Investing in art and 
   literature was one way of showing that you had gone beyond 
   the mere urge to become rich. To that extent, it's exactly 
   like today. Cosimo was no better and no worse than a 
   Saatchi or a Hong Kong billionaire with gold-plated bath 
   taps." 
 
   Her book, intended for a general audience. is finely 
   illustrated and full of descriptive detail -- a shoppers' 
   guide to the Renaissance -- but somewhat short on argument. 
   Its originality is in the synthesis, she told me. A 
   specialist on the period, she has made much use of others' 
   research -- a fact she duly acknowledges. 
 
   She quotes the historian who dug out the contract details 
   for Titian's bedroom paintings of big nudes. They show 
   these were not classical allegories but pin-ups 
   commissioned by the Duke of Urbino and Cardinal Farnese for 
   their erotic impact. "They liked big nudes and had the good 
   taste to pick an artist of renown." 
 
   Her publishers describe Jardine as "one of our most 
   high-profile media dons". I asked her what she thought of 
   the label. 
 
   "It's a silly description," she said. "It just means my 
   name is recognised and I'm a don." 
 
   Her name is recognised from her radio broadcasts. She also 
   presented Nightwaves on Radio Three until she was removed 
   for being too heavyweight (or, she thinks, too expensive). 
   What is not so well known is that she is the eldest 
   daughter of the polymath Jacob Bronowski, the father of 
   media donnery, whose Ascent of Man series was a television 
   landmark in the early 1970s. 
 
   "He was a hard act to follow," she laughed. 
 
   Were you overshadowed by him? 
 
   "No, I adored my father. And since he had no sons I was his 
   first-born son. I owe all my intellectual confidence to my 
   father: he treated me like an intellectual equal." 
 
   Though married for the second time to architect John Hare. 
   she uses her first husband's name professionally: Nicholas 
   Jardine is professor of the history of science at 
   Cambridge. 
 
   Is she a revisionist? No, because she does not pretend the 
   Renaissance never happened. 
 
   "I'm standing the argument on its head," she said. "There 
   was indeed a key moment in the European tradition in the 
   15th century, and that was the burgeoning of a complicated 
   commercial world. It was the commercial world which gave 
   birth to the Renaissance in art and learning. It's that way 
   round." 
 
   But she confessed an "evangelical" motive. "I am fearful, 
   or alarmed, at the way in which we disparage our own 
   commercial acumen now. The arts and literature are in 
   danger of being pushed into a little enclave. There is a 
   danger of our believing that we are philistines, that 
   European culture is only about trade, banking, investment 
   and that in some distant penumbra there are arty people who 
   have nothing to do with all this." 
 
   Your mission is to provide a Renaissance that entrepreneurs 
   can identify with? 
 
   "I believe the relation between commercial vigour and the 
   urge to create and support beauty and art go together," she 
   replied. "No period of economic decline has produced great 
   art; bullish financiers backing what they like are the 
   lifeblood of High Art." 
 
   "This is the whole story, as I would see it. Of course," 
   she added, "you always plough your own furrow very hard. so 
   this is overly focused." 
 
   You have overstated the case, you mean? 
 
   "I stated the case very strongly because it's having to 
   compete with a consistently different message. It has to be 
   stated strongly. It's not a partial case." 
 
   Why did earlier historians get it wrong? 
 
   "They left out the eastern Mediterranean. They demonised 
   the Islamic world as the infidel against whom all this was 
   a reaction. Now I'm 100 per cent Jewish stock, and I first 
   noticed that the Jews were missing from the intellectual 
   history of the Renaissance. 
 
   "The Ottoman empire was as magnificent, as cultivated, as 
   huge a patron as the empire of the Hapsburgs. And it was 
   the Ottoman empire that taught the west the fine points of 
   financing trade." 
 
   Aren't you doing what you say Burckhardt did, tailoring 
   history to suit modern preoccupations? 
 
   "I don't think I'm saying that. I'm not pushing the borders 
   out. I'm anti-nationalistic. I want us to recognise the 
   richness, the multinationality ..." 
 
   Multicultural? 
 
   "That's a horrible word." 
 
   History was a snapshot, she said, and a snapshot taken 50 
   years ago would always look like a daguerrotype. 
 
   "If you shift the metaphor, history is always a 
   conversation with the past, in which you can only converse 
   with the past in a language you both understand." 
 
   The problem is, I said, that the historian is more like a 
   painter than a camera. And in your dialogue you can easily 
   drown out the voice of the past. 
 
   "But the voice of the past is many voices. Different 
   interlocutors of the present will be able to dialogue with 
   different voices of the past. You may drown some out. But 
   I'm saying the ones that I'm drowning out have had a very 
   good hearing." 
 
   Isn't your thesis in danger of being dismissed because it 
   doesn't recognise that amazing achievements were notched 
   up? 
 
   "Of course the answer to that is, I'm taking those for 
   granted." 
 
   But which is more interesting for us, the market mechanism 
   or the objects themselves? 
 
   "I am saying the painting has to be looked at alongside bed 
   panels and boxes and spices and tapestries. They all belong 
   together. I'm saying it is historically inaccurate to hive 
   one set off. Indeed, it's a falsehood, because panel 
   paintings were the least valuable thing at that moment. 
   Durer said he wasn't going to do another painting because 
   he didn't make any money." 
 
   Artists were in it for the money? "No. it wasn't just for 
   money. They were driven by their expertise and skill. 
   Saying that commerce produces a climate in which it becomes 
   possible for people to exercise their talents in more 
   flamboyant and exciting ways is not the same thing as 
   saying they just do it for money." 
 
   Are you saying the modern market will produce an artistic 
   revival? 
 
   "No. But l have every confidence that the things the 
   Saatchis are buying are more likely to be what we are 
   looking at in 100 years' time than the art that a committee 
   of academics in a gallery is buying." 
 
   Today's Renaissance Men, she suggested, were people like 
   Bill Gates of Microsoft (who paid $31m for a Leonardo 
   scientific manuscript), Andrew Lloyd Webber (a collector 
   mainly of Victorian painters). and the Getty family. So the 
   bankers, brokers and chief executives ... "Please keep 
   buying." 
 
   They're not just conspicuous consumers? "No, they're 
   creators of taste." 
 
   Is there sign of another Renaissance anywhere in the world? 
 
   "What we have now is continuity. It isn't dead. All around 
   us voices of doom are saying we're clapped out. We're not 
   clapped out. And if we say we are we'll turn into an Iraq  
   -- a culture which has no culture." 
 
   I thanked her and got up, but she was not through with me 
   yet. 
 
   "If you write with passion and with a strong focus you will 
   always be accused of overstating your case," she said. "I 
   don't just write as a contribution to knowledge. l write to 
   change the world. To shift a large weight you have to give 
   it an exaggerated shove." 
 
   It's a temperamental thing? 
 
   "Yes. Shifting the conventional wisdom is really what I'm 
   about." She sounded happy. 
 
   But your view of the world may be squint, I said. 
 
   "If Leonardo had thought that he would never have painted 
   the Mona Lisa." 
 
   *Worldly Goods, A New History of the Renaissance*: 
   Macmillan. L25. 
 
   [Photo of Jardine omitted] 
 
   [End] 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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