This study examines the
process of commercialization of art which took place in Antwerp during
the long sixteenth century, an era of rapid expansion of both the
city’s economy and its art market. Indeed, Antwerp carved
altarpieces, paintings, tapestries, books and other luxury items were
exported to an area stretching from the Baltic region to the
Mediterranean Basin during this time period. The key development that
explains the success of Antwerp as an export center for the arts, the
author argues, lies not only in the strength of the Antwerp economy and
the artistic tradition of the Southern Netherlands, but specifically in
the shift from ordering artwork on commission to the production for the
open market. In other words, Antwerp artists were much more inclined to
produce art on spec and, consequently, art was commercialized at
an early stage and became the subject of intense trading.
Focusing on painting and to some degree on other art forms such as
sculpture and tapestry, the author surveys the various factors that
contributed to this phenomenon: proto-industrial workshops engaged in
standardized production of popular images, and the sophisticated
commercial infrastructure that the city could boast allowed art to be
sold wholesale to an international clientele at the panden
(specialized sales halls). However, the flourishing of the art market
was ultimately a direct result of the increased demand for luxury
goods, both foreign and domestic, and Antwerp was essentially the
locale where supply and demand for art converged.
The booming art market led to increased commodization of works of art;
art dealers entered on the scene and further professionalized the art
trade during the second half of the sixteenth century. In painting,
commercialization led to a diversification of the genres, a form of
product innovation that generated new demand. Clearly, Antwerp’s
pivotal position in the European trade network and its pioneering role
in introducing capitalist commercial techniques had transformed the way
art was marketed and produced.
The outbreak of the Dutch Revolt during the last third of the sixteenth
century severely disrupted the economy of the Southern Netherlands, and
as a result, the Antwerp art market collapsed in the mid-1580s.
However, in the difficult closing years of the sixteenth century, a
transformation process began to take shape in which the foundations
were laid for yet a new era of cultural eminence for the city of
!Winner of the Roland H.
Bainton Prize for Art History!
"Vermeylen's book makes
absorbing reading for the specialist and the non-specialist. It is,
thus, a rarity in academic publishing because it manages to reach a
varied audience even as it retains its scholarly rigor. Throughout, it also conveys the
passion and absorption that the author feels for his material and the
result is a book of intellectual complexity, accomplished scholarship
and narrative flow."
This study has received the
Bainton prize in Art History (2004), sponsored by the Sixteenth
Century Society and Conference