Wealth & Status Unveiled: A Visual Journey Through Middle Ages and Renaissance Elegance

Categories: JewelleryWealth

For my theme of the project, I decided to focus on items that demonstrate wealth and status during the Middle Ages and Renaissance time period. Even though it may seem broad, I chose three specific items that can be compared from both time periods. The items I chose to compare that demonstrate class are jewelry, picture frames, and clothing. I chose these specific items because they were popular amongst these time periods, and it would be interesting to distinguish the similarities and differences between similar individual pieces that still exemplify wealth.

You should pay close attention to my art exhibition because I will allow you to experience a time where physical currency wasn’t a prominent form of boasting like it is today, and flashy ancient items were in fact favorable. The ideology behind my art exhibit is to make it uniquely different from the other ones. You may ask yourself, “how do you plan on doing this?” The answer to this question would be simply focus on a few specific concepts and go in-depth on how they have changed or remained the same, rather than having twice the amount of concepts and analyzing each item within them individually without setting a correlation with one another, again while still explaining how they demonstrated wealth and status.

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To give some historical context before you start observing the items in the exhibition. For the two pieces of jewelry, I am going to elaborate on, they are 400 years apart and in similar places in Germany.

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I chose picture frames as my second concept in my art exhibition because I believe it’s something that not many people will take into consideration. When people think about paintings, they mainly focus on the main attraction rather than taking the other aspect of the masterpiece into consideration that coherently ties everything together. Moving on to the clothing pieces, I chose pictures that express the importance and significance of clothes for the working class through their artwork. Without any more delay, I present to you my art exhibit.

The description of this piece of jewelry is found within the name itself. Let’s start by breaking the details apart and figuring out what each individual component represents with courtesy from “The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” As we can tell by the shape of it, it is star-shaped, but as we look deeper into it, the horizontal and vertical axes make it stand out as a cross. Since most wealthy people wore long gowns and stylistic clothes, they often found themselves looking for a finishing touch, which is where the importance of this brooch comes into place. The term Intaglio itself means a design made into a piece of material. In this case, the Ottonian Emperors carved the face of their favorite Constantine’s son into a rare gem known as a Star Sapphire.

This piece of jewelry was seen as a piece of wealth and status because it represented the inheritors of the Christian Roman Empire established by Constantine. This piece is similar to the next piece of jewelry of the art exhibition due to the fact that its origin is also from Germany and there’s excessive use of gold and pearls around the center gem. Some pearls ended up going missing over time because it was discovered in a burial. Artist Unknown. Pendant Reliquary Cross. Germany. 1450-1475. Pearls and Gems. This piece of jewelry is similar to the last one due to the common characteristics they both share. Before we get to that, let's start to decipher this pendant. It is shaped like a cross with gems engraved into each compartment.

The base of this piece is made out of gold to demonstrate the hierarchical status they have in society. Connecting this back to the art exhibit, which is how items demonstrate wealth and status, the material in this pendant is a perfect example. “V and A: A History of Jewelry” mentioned that medieval jewelry was really popular during the 1200s-1500s. So in order to distinguish between the upper and lower class, you would have to look at the material of the pieces. For this piece, the base is gold so it would demonstrate that the person wearing it is someone of power. In comparison to someone who would wear simple metal such as copper, which would make them stand out as the lower part of society.

Now how exactly is this piece similar to the previous one? Well, they are both star-shaped with a cross visual in the middle, both have excessive use of gold, and there is an intaglio. Even though these two pieces were made 400-500 years apart, we can see how some characteristics can be passed down from long time periods. Frames: Master of the Codex of Saint George. The Crucifixion. France. 1315-1335. Gold and Wood I decided to introduce the idea of how picture frames demonstrate wealth and status because I know many will not touch upon this topic, and it seemed interesting how frames could reflect social class. This frame, in particular, is constructed mainly out of many pieces of wood compacted together to be made into one. Carpenters considered the wooden frame to be part of the painting rather than it being separate or an individual piece.

Laura Morelli stated in her article “The History of Picture Frames”, that the shape of this frame was inspired by gothic architectural models, as we can tell by the pointed arch on top of the picture frame. The main idea of these elaborate, stylistic, and complex frames is to demonstrate the wealth in the picture itself through the quality and size of the piece itself. There were different architectural shapes for these paintings known as ​diptychs, triptychs, and polyptychs which were used accordingly to the frame’s number of individual panels, also depending on the size of the picture itself. Since this picture frame was from the 13th century, the base of the frame was wooden, but as time progressed through the centuries, so did the quality and material. Giovanni di ser Giovanni Guidi. The Triumph of Fame; (reverse) Impresa of the Medici Family and Arms of the Medici and Tornabuoni Families.

Florence, Italy. 1449. Tempera, Silver, and Gold on Wood As I stated in the previous item’s description, the quality and material of the picture frame would increase as time passed by, and so it did. The wooden frame was popular during the 13th century, the quality obviously had to increase in order to demonstrate wealth and status of what was being portrayed in the picture itself. Fast forward to the mid 15th century, gold became the most popular material to be used on the frames. This was particularly the case in this picture frame because the gold around the painting had to represent the birth of Lorenzo de’ Medici, which was a monumental moment in history. So you better bet that that quality from the center of attention to what is supporting the painting had to be top tier.

Since the frame was made in the Southern Renaissance, we can see notice engraved “sliced” or “cut” detail around the circular frame, which was something that the artists took pride in. Adding on, “The Metropolitan Museum of Art” also emphasized that commissioning circular trays to celebrate the birth of a ruler’s child was a tradition when presenting it to the mothers. So this also supports the ideology that picture frames were indeed important and crucial when demonstrating someone’s wealth and status. Clothing: Christine de Pizan. Cité des Dames. Paris. 1400-1410. Painting As we are all aware, the clothes we wear say a lot about us. In today’s time, it can mostly be based upon your personality, but this wasn’t the case during the end of the middle ages.

The clothes that people wore demonstrate their social class and where they stood in society. As we take this picture into consideration from “Fashion History Timeline”, we can state the obvious. That is that the women of power, as noticed based on the crowns and castle in the background, the powerful women wore long, eloquent, and colorful pieces of clothing. Clothes were worn at full length in order to set a statement of the luxury lifestyle they took part in. A comparison that we can make inside the picture can be found from the women of power at the center of attention, to the laborer at the top left. We can tell who was seen as more important based on the color of the wool they wore.

This simple comparison serves as an example of how the choice of clothing pieces can set a statement of how much wealth or status you have compared to everybody else in society. Andrea Mantegna. The Court of Gonzaga. Mantua: Ducal Palace. 1465-1474. Walnut Oil on Plaster We can observe that the fashion sense in the late 15th century changed quite a bit compared to the other image during the early 15th century. Even though both images are like 50 years apart from two different countries, we still still identify similarities and differences on how wealth and status was expressed during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance time period. A similarity that is pretty obvious to spot would be the choice of colors.

The clothing that the wealthy people wore in both images are vibrant and colorful for the sole reason that they want to let other people, of a lower class, to know that they are superior in the social ranks compared to them. A difference that we can identify would be the stockings. Even though the servants were the ones to wear the mis-match red and white stockings, this demonstrated the authority and social connection during the late 15th century. This can be related to the idea of uniforms, which was what the powerful people had control over others. “Fashion History Timeline” also mentioned that clothing was central to politics and economic stability, meaning that the clothes that the upper class wore were an indication of where they stood, economic wise, compared to other countries. The type of clothes that people wore definitely was a way of demonstrating wealth and status.

Updated: Jan 30, 2024
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Wealth & Status Unveiled: A Visual Journey Through Middle Ages and Renaissance Elegance. (2024, Jan 30). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/wealth-status-unveiled-a-visual-journey-through-middle-ages-and-renaissance-elegance-essay

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