Magnificence

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_232-1

Abstract

Magnificence has become a significant subject in discussions of Italian Renaissance art, particularly architecture, since it came to widespread attention in the early 1960s as a justification for large-scale architectural, urbanistic, and artistic patronage, and other forms of prominent display, for which it is now often used as a synonym.

Aristotle described magnificence as a moral virtue comprising the decorous expenditure of significant wealth on public display. In this form, it was the subject of brief but influential discussions by Cicero and treated at length by Thomas Aquinas. In descriptions of patronage, the concept emerged in the mid-fourteenth century; in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it appeared in works of moral philosophy and household management, and conduct books, as well as panegyrics and eulogies.

Magnificence provided a means of working out the role in politics and society of architecture and other forms of lavish expenditure. Fifteenth-century texts often contest the appropriateness of magnificent expenditure in particular arenas (the communal versus the familial) and in different political contexts (republics versus courts). An especially rich cluster of texts centered on Florence in the period c. 1400–1465, contrasting with texts produced in courtly cultures.

Magnificence can be related to, and in some cases may have provided the impetus for, significant building campaigns by oligarchs and aristocrats. We can deduce from the texts a set of critical categories for assessing the magnificence of architecture (scale and quantity, materials, decoration, and architectural articulation, the all’antica style, and comforts and amenities). In the sixteenth century, the importance of decorum in magnificent display led to ever subtler distinctions between the aesthetic and material qualities of objects.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The National GalleryLondonUK