The world of arts can thrive with involvement of more patrons

The world of arts can thrive with involvement of more patrons

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Le Trombe del Giudizio / The Trumpets of Judgment (1968‐1986) by Michelangelo Pistoletto. (Courtesy Blenheim Art Foundation)

If you ever find yourself escaping to the English countryside, then Blenheim Palace should surely be on your grand tour. Nestled amid the verdant Oxfordshire landscape, this magnificent property is not only home to the Dukes of Marlborough and the birthplace of former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, it is also a treasure trove of artworks.
A tour of the palace’s state rooms will bedazzle you with the finest and most precious of artistic manifestations, resplendent with lavish furniture, luxurious tapestries, majestic chandeliers, and fascinating artifacts. The hallways and rooms are replete with enigmatic portrait paintings that leave you wondering about the glamorous and glorious lives of the palace’s inhabitants over the past 300 years. The long library is home to a collection of more than 10,000 books, including rare editions. The gardens are equally sublime, with impressive fountains and maze-like parterres. Getting lost here is a delight to the senses, as you pass by fragrant rose gardens full of birdsong, an expansive yet tranquil lake, and cascading waterfalls. Clearly, this splendid home was made to exalt beauty, for everything about it qualifies as nothing less than a timeless masterpiece.
The palace has been at the forefront of collecting cultural works and continues to evolve its taste for beauty, with the owners being patrons of the arts over the centuries. In 2014, the Blenheim Art Foundation was launched to host temporary art exhibitions in the palace’s state rooms and gardens, in addition to amassing a collection of artworks by contemporary artists to be displayed permanently. Over the years, several avant-garde artists have showcased seminal works there, blending their own unique, modern styles with those of this pastoral paradise. Currently, the palace is hosting acclaimed painter Cecily Brown’s works, reflecting on the symbols of influence and power with impressive, dreamy, semi-abstract brushstrokes. Thanks to the generous contributions of patrons, we can enjoy such evocative masterpieces for generations to come.
The term “patron” means protector of dependents, or simply father. Similarly, a patron is deemed to be a father figure responsible for paving the way for artists to work their magic and produce beautiful artworks. Patrons were often also involved in the creative process, dictating the content, cost, materials and dimensions of the work to be commissioned. Throughout history, patrons have been influential, wealthy and powerful rulers, nobles, clergymen and merchants looking for ways to reflect their status in society. This was achieved through splurges on palace constructions, indoor artworks and sculptures, commissioning works intended for public revelry, or temporary yet lavish decorations for diplomatic visits, festivals or marriages.
The House of Medici, which was crucial in shaping the Italian Renaissance, remains one of the most influential arts patrons. Through its success in commerce and banking, the family rose to power and wealth during the 15th century. To fortify their status in Florentine society, family members generously patronized all kinds of artistic, literary and architectural works. The list boasts the great architect Filippo Brunelleschi, famous for the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Michelangelo, who produced his first significant works under this patronage, and Leonardo da Vinci, who was supported by the Medici family for seven years.
The family also commissioned grand architectural projects that are still notable cultural attractions in Florence today, such as the Uffizi Gallery, the Boboli Gardens, the Medici Chapel, the Palazzo Medici, and the Belvedere. Furthermore, some of the greatest painters of the time produced works under their patronage, including Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Andrea del Verrocchio.
In modern times, advertising mogul and arts philanthropist Charles Saatchi is considered a prolific patron and is widely credited for enriching the contemporary British art scene. The Saatchi Gallery, established in 1985 and now based in London’s posh Duke of York Square, started exhibiting Saatchi’s own collection of contemporary artworks by Andy Warhol, Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Julian Schnabel, and Anselm Kiefer. In 1988, Saatchi donated 130 artworks to an auction event by Christie’s to raise funds for arts scholarships at four of London’s art schools. A decade later, he gave away 100 artworks from his own collection to the Arts Council of Great Britain. Over the years, many esteemed artists, such as Sigmar Polke, Damien Hirst and Frank Stella, have made their imprints in the art world thanks to Saatchi’s patronage.

Thanks to the generous contributions of patrons, we can enjoy evocative masterpieces for generations to come.

Sara Al-Mulla

Patronage of the arts in the 21st century is continuously evolving. For one, digital arts platforms have paved the way for arts philanthropy to be a smoother and faster process. For example, Art Fund is a registered British charity that gives direct grants to museums to acquire art collections, provide curatorial training to staff, and organize exhibitions. It sources funding from corporations, individuals, and grant-making foundations and trusts.
Similarly, Patreon is an ingenious online platform that allows artists, writers, podcasters, musicians, and videographers to post regular content while requesting direct funding from their fans, or patrons, on a periodical basis. The platform has managed to garner more than 200,000 creators boasting 6 million active monthly patrons and $2 billion paid out to creators.
However, further interest needs to be created on a wider scale to provide continuous support for the arts world. The media should highlight the significant roles that arts patrons play. Additionally, art dealers can match-make potential patrons and artists via digital platforms. And art galleries and museums can invite sponsorships from corporations, foundations and individuals. With a more intensified policy for soliciting arts patrons, we can channel enough resources to support artists in their work without limiting it to public-sector funding.
We have much to thank the patrons of the arts for. Their benevolent contributions to the arts world have birthed the most beautiful masterpieces, which are a testament to humanity’s beautiful expressions.

  • Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted via
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