Inspecting the work in progress

This scene, painted in 1896 by French academic painter Édouard Debat-Ponsan, is a fairly ordinary Salon painting of its time.  But I like it because it illustrates clearly that so much of the wonderful art produced until very recently was not the result of the personal efforts of our modern day idea of ‘Artists’.

It was instead a product made to order by skilled craftsmen and women (but mostly men, of course, opportunities for women in most of the arts were typically very limited), who were lowly workers employed by the wealthy and powerful.  And the richest and most powerful were very often the religious leaders, as in this painting.

A bishop inspects the progress of a sculpture being worked on by three stone-carvers

A bishop inspects the progress of a sculpture he has commissioned that is being worked on by three stone-carvers

It also reminds me of the Monty Python sketch where John Cleese, as the Pope, is berating Michaelangelo for exercising his artistic license by painting a Last Supper that has 28 disciples, and not one, but three, Christs.

Michaelangelo protests, “But it works, mate, the fat one balances the two skinny ones.”

“Look here”, shouts the angry Pope, “I want one Christ, twelve disciples, and no kangaroo, by Thursday, or you don’t get paid!”

Eric Idle, as MIchaelangelo, responds “You don’t want an artist, mate, you want a bloody photographer!”

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