Vespucci family in context: art patrons in late fifteenth-century Florence
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The study of Florentine artistic patronage has attracted several approaches over the last three decades, including the exploration of patron-‐client structures and how the use of art in private and public spheres contributed to shape families’s identity. Building on past research, this work focuses on the art patronage of a prominent, yet overlooked, family, the Vespucci, to whom Amerigo, the navigator who reached the coasts of America in the late fifteenth century, belonged. Although the family’s importance was achieved through a synergy of political, religious and intellectual forces, attention is given to the Vespucci’s engagement with the arts and their key contribution to Florence’s humanistic culture between the years 1470-1500. The family’s houses and private chapels are analysed, and three artists, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Piero di Cosimo, considered. Combining history, art history, and archival resources, new evidence and interpretations are advanced to ascribe selected artworks - controversially believed to be Vespucci commissions - to the private patronage of this Florentine family. Examining the Vespucci’s artistic taste in private and public settings, whilst attempting a reconstruction of partially lost painted commissions, deepens comprehension on the role that domestic and social life played in the creation of art and culture; the family’s force in shaping spaces; and the practice of buying, commissioning, and displaying as a means of signifying wealth, increasing status, and establishing identity. Power seekers, the Vespucci entered the Medici intellectual circles through which they created chains of friendship with prominent families inside and outside of Florence. As questions about shared artistic tastes and the paradigmatic role of the Medici artistic patronage have been the focus of scholarly enquiry, this study of the Vespucci provides an insight into the family’s spreading of new ideas and its interaction with the development of the visual arts. Investigation into the Vespucci’s breadth of interests helps to reframe the current knowledge of Florentine cultural exchanges and to contextualise the family’s influence beyond the geographical discoveries it has been exclusively associated with.