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.