The History of Art Markets
Treating markets as arenas where relative advantage is contested, this entry explores the emergence and evolution of Western markets for paintings, 1450-1750, in terms of the players, their creative moves to secure gain, and the rules they devised to maintain order. Primary markets for paintings arose as a derivative of the commission market for one-off, mainly religious paintings in places such as Florence and Bruges, in the second half of the 15th century. Demand from foreign merchants eager to obtain works in the new medium, oil, gave Bruges an edge. So did a demand for easel paintings on thin linen, and even in oil on panel, as cheap substitutes for tapestries. Variety and cost also played a role. Emulation among differently-trained artists generated novel products plus extraordinary cost reductions, and painters discovered a latent demand among the less wealthy. Some novel products were exported, as were new techniques. The retail market in Florence was limited in size and largely confined to serving a need for cheaper versions of unique, public commissions. A mass demand for paintings across the social spectrum occurred principally in Northern cities: e.g., Antwerp, and later Amsterdam, though also in Spain. Resale markets followed retail with a lag, recycled paintings being handled by second-hand clothes dealers. This sequence - commission nexus, cost-reduction and novel sorts of paintings, mass retail, then resale markets - occurred in cities across Europe. As mass markets emerged, so too did specialist dealers. A large part of the entry is devoted to detailing their creative marketing moves. There were tensions as to whether only artists might sell, but demand mostly overrode guild reluctance to relinquish control of distribution. Widespread distribution came to require efficient sales mechanisms, hence public sales and auctions. The entry explores auction rules and techniques within the broader sequence identified above.
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