Throughout hundreds of years, glorification of important people in society pervades as a common theme. Yesterday, we visited the Uffizi, an art museum in Florence. Going into the museum, I knew I’d get to see a Leonardo exhibit and very intricate paintings, but I didn’t have any particular artist or painting I was ecstatic about. My only art history knowledge comes from AP Spanish, as I learned the history of Spain through famous paintings of Spanish artists. Because of this, I’m always interested to see what kind of commentary artists make about society through their work. This proved difficult to do walking through the Uffizi since I had little background knowledge about any of the history. That being said, I did get creative with a few paintings wondering what they might possibly mean.
Beyond deciphering the meanings behind paintings, I observed overall themes about the art at which we stared. One expected theme was Catholicism. Jesus, God, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, and other religious figures in the Catholic faith inspired many artists, and this shows itself as you walk through the Uffizi. Even in the room with about five or six different versions of “Madonna and Child,” you see the importance religion played in society at the time.
A second theme which did not surprise me, but I did not expect to see it in the way I expected to see Catholicism was the portrayal of important people in society. I asked myself as I walked through the museum why we no longer paint portraits of people the way we used to. Hundreds of years ago, the wealthy wanted paintings of famous people (usually themselves) or beautiful landscapes to hang in their living rooms. Now, from the little I observe about art, modern art stands out as the most wanted in the United States. Even in New York, people always rave about MOMA and many other museums of modern art attract hundreds and thousands of visitors. So I asked myself, if this is the direction art seems to have taken, how do we portray important people in society?
In the 1400’s-1800’s or so, when someone important or royal wanted to be known, they could afford a royal painter to paint their portrait. Many of these now line the walls of museums like the Uffizi. What do people do now? Show up in the press. The press and social media have become our way of glorifying those we consider important in society. I’m specifically thinking of celebrities more so than political figures, but the idea applies to both. When celebrities want to be known in a certain way, or even politicians, they manipulate the press. That’s why we have industries dedicated to public relations. Even through Instagram, people often use it to portray themselves as best as possible. Posting a photo on Instagram took the place of hiring a famous painter to paint your portrait so it can be found in a museum.
We may have stopped painting physical portraits of those considered important in society, but the act of glorifying them just transformed into the social media scene which exists today.