chapter  5
33 Pages

The New History of Art: The Social in the Art Work

Social historians of art have traditionally been keen to explore this question. However, M. Baxandall examines the figure of the patron as a strategist: 'an active, determining and not necessarily benevolent agent in the transaction of which the painting is a result'. C. Ginzburg's The Enigma of Piero: Piero della Francesca was written in the same perspective. Taking Baxandall's argument in two interconnected directions, operating the same methodological reversal of the status of painting as Baxandall, Ginzburg considers that paintings constitute 'documents of political and religious history'. The mediators of art that Ginzburg restores are much more active than the patrons invoked by traditional historians and social historians of art. To the linguistic model of interpretation the history of art opposed an unspoken prohibition: it did not allow itself to cancel out any mediator. In other words, the history of art needs the proliferating number of human and material mediators.