Ever since art became a means of expression (the dawn of time?), patrons have commissioned artists to deliver messages to the masses. In the olden days, commissions were a sign of a politician’s wealth or an empire’s strength. Large-scale architectural projects such as the Roman Coliseum were commissions that propelled urban projects into the status of propaganda. Today, commissions can still act as political propaganda, however, they have become an accesible art avenue for the greater public. In honor of grand gestures and valor, we’ve aggregated the best art commissions in the past millenium.
Rise Above the Rest
Art history can say a lot about the political landscape. Ever wonder who was in power during the Italian Renaissance? Check out art from that period for the answer. Pope Julius II had enough control to commission the great Michelangelo to paint the entire Sistine Chapel. This colossal ceiling comes in at number one on a list of grand and famous commissions.
Power in Numbers
Rembrandt walked away with 1600 guilders for this guy. As testament to Dutch power, Captain Frans Banning Cocq and his men supposedly commissioned The Night Watch or The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq. The piece was set for the banquet hall of the Kloveniersdoelen in Amsterdam. It shows that a commission can come from a group of individuals as well as one powerful man.
Speaking of one powerful man, Napoleon (although short) held a lot of military strength and political prowess. Napoleon Crossing the Alps depicts the French general crossing the Great St. Bernard Pass. This piece is a bit of commissioned idealism *cough* propaganda *cough*. It was recreated four times! This piece was propelled through the empire to glorify Napoleon’s strength and his rapprochement with Charles IV of Spain. If you want to see UGallery’s comical, un-pc rendition of this famous commission, check out Chris Elzinga’s Napoleon Bonerparte.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Prime Minister!
Not all commissions end well. Artist Graham Sutherland’s accurate portrayal of Winston Churchill was a tad bit too accurate. The painting was destroyed by Churchill’s wife, Clementine. The portrait, a commemorative gift for Churchill’s 80th birthday from both Houses of Parliament, turned out to be a flop. Churchill was a painter himself and did not like the way it depicted him. A man who faced Hitler should look strong, not peevish (the illegality of destroying this piece of art was brushed under the rug since it was an order by Lady Churchill herself).
A Modern Commission
Do you remember seeing this magazine cover on newsstands last year? Did you know that Shepard Fairey’s depiction of “The Protestor” for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year was a commission? This was not Fairey’s first political commission. His portrait of Barack Obama in 2008 became a symbol of a momentous political event in American history: the inauguration of President Barak Obama.
to be continued…