Commissioned art has been prevalent in human culture as far back as history goes. Many of the famous and iconic symbols of our world were only created because they were commissioned.
The first on our list is possibly one of the most famous of them all. Let’s take a journey back through time, looking at some of the most important pieces of commissioned artwork ever created.
The Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian Dynasty in A.D 70 as a gift to the Roman people. While this is probably better classified as architecture, it is not a stretch to view the massive display as a work of art.
It was completed in A.D. 80 and was opened by Emperor Titus, the son of Vespasian, before a celebration of 100 days of games. The amphitheater held anywhere between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators and contained a massive tunnel system that allowed for the transportation of exotic animals and gladiators to the stage.
The Colosseum measures 620 by 513 feet and was the largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire. The real question on everyone’s mind – are you not entertained?
The iconic exterior consisted of 80 supporting columns, creating three levels of archway entrances. Each level of columns contained a different style starting with the Doric order on the first level, followed by the Ionic order and topped by the Corinthian order. Over the centuries, nearly two-thirds of the original Colosseum still exist, including all of the marble seating and decorative features. A large restoration project is underway and planned to be completed in 2016.
Colossus of Nero
The Colosseum got its name for its proximity to the Colossus of Nero — a 103 ft. bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Nero. For reference, the top of the head of the Statue of Liberty is 111 ft. tall!
True to the famously narcissistic personality of the Emperor, it was commissioned by he himself.
The statue was originally located in the Domus Aurea, Emperor Nero’s personal villa in the heart of Rome. The villa was built following the Great Fire of Rome, which Nero was often blamed for starting. The fire destroyed much of the urban city and cleared the land for his planned palatial complex.
After revolt ended in suicide for Emperor Nero, his successor, Emperor Vespasian, added a sun-ray crown and renamed the statue Colossus Solis after the Roman sun god, Sol. Eventually, the statue was moved to a spot outside of the Flavian Amphitheater, which then became known as the Colosseum.
Unfortunately, the statue no longer exists today. The statue itself may have stood during the Middle Ages, but the brick-faced masonry pedestal was removed by Benito Mussolini in 1936.
The Last Supper
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most famous paintings in history. Lesser known, this piece was commissioned around 1495 by Leonardo’s patron, Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. Painted in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, it was originally commissioned for a renovation of the church.
Having undergone restoration, the last of which ended in 1999, the famous mural has battled the elements and intentional damages throughout its long life. For such a famous image, not much of the original painting still exists.
Measuring in at an impressive 15 by 29 ft., it occupies the space of an entire wall. According to ArtHistory.About.com, work on the painting lasted from 1495 to 1498. The painting is often praised for its “human, identifiable emotions,” which set it apart from similar depictions of this world famous scene.
Rowan Gillespie’s “Famine”
While commissioned art is generally created to demonstrate power, wealth or prestige, it can also be used to face hard truths and memorialize moments in history.
Between 1845 and 1852, Ireland faced a period of disease, starvation and mass exodus known as the Great Famine or the Great Hunger. A donation to Dublin, Famine was commissioned by Norma Smurfit and sculpted by Dublin sculptor, Rowan Gillespie in 1997.
Made of bronze, the sculptures are located on Custom House Quay in Dublin’s Docklands. According to Docklands (DDDA.ie), “This location is a particularly appropriate and historic as one of the first voyages of the Famine period was on the ‘Perseverance’ which sailed from Custom House Quay on St. Patrick’s Day 1846.”
The Birth of Venus
The Birth of Venus was painted by Sandro Botticelli, likely in the mid-1480s.
While it’s not entirely clear, many believe it was commissioned by the Medici family. The famous depiction is similar to a description from the poem, the Stanze per la giostra by Angelo Poliziano.
The Importance of Commissioned Art
With so many incredible commissioned works of art, one has to wonder what the world would look like today without the combined powers of wealth supporting art.
Much can be inferred by these relationships about the power of art.
If knowledge is power, one of its brothers is surely art. As one of the most powerful tools for visual storytelling, one has to wonder what the future holds in this unfolding world of potential.