Exhibitions and Installations, J. Paul Getty Museum, Paintings

From the Black Death to Black Friday

Saint Eloy in His Goldsmith’s Workshop / Master of the Misericordia

Saint Eloy in His Goldsmith’s Workshop, about 1370, Master of the Misericordia. Tempera and gold leaf on panel, 13 3/4 x 15 3/8 in. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, no. 2841

There’s been a lot of talk about shopping over the past few days, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday (now expanded to Cyber Week). In late medieval Florence, shopping—for art—was also all the rage. In the years leading up to the Black Death of 1348, citizens of Florence could buy works of art from an artist’s workshop, which was often located on the ground level of a building on a street corner. In this painting by the Master of the Misericordia, we see Eloy, a seventh-century French saint, laboring in his goldsmith’s workshop. The saint diligently finishes making a golden saddle, while four assistants work at various tasks: two hammer metal objects, one stokes the fires with a bellows, and another adds finishing touches to a crucifix using a stylus or chisel.

In the first half of the 14th century, Florentine patrons commissioned huge amounts of art with a variety of goals: decorating a family chapel within newly built churches, supplying choir books or a laudario (book of hymns) for religious and lay ceremonies, or for facilitating private devotion. Some of the hottest brand names, so to speak, were paintings by Giotto and illuminated manuscripts by Pacino di Bonaguida (who also created panel paintings with innovative imagery).

Now that the holiday season is upon us, I hope you’ll break up your shopping trips with a visit to the exhibition Florence at the Dawn of the Renaissance: Painting and Illumination, 1300–1350, where you’ll encounter 95 stunning objects made in Florence at that time. Also, check out the exhibition store both on-site and online for the perfect Florence-themed gifts for family and friends.

You can also read more about the painting above on the Museo del Prado’s website.

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      This milky pink boomed into popularity because of a marketing ploy, a mistress, and its ambiguous origins.

      In an effort to compete with the renowned Meissen porcelain factory, the French Sèvres manufactory recruited the glamorous Madame de Pompadour (mistress to King Louis XV). Like a smart sponsorship deal, Sèvres gave her all the porcelain she requested. 

      Introduced in 1757, this rich pink exploded on the scene thanks to favoritism by Madame Pompadour herself. 

      The glaze itself had a weird history. To the Europeans it looked Chinese, and to the Chinese it was European. It was made based on a secret 17th-century glassmaker’s technique, involving mixing glass with flecks of gold.

      For more on colors and their often surprising histories, check out The Brilliant History of Color in Art.


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