Relative Values: The Cost of Art in the Northern Renaissance

relative value

Date(s): Aug 7, 2017 – Jun 23, 2019
Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, NY, New York 10028, USA

Bringing together 62 masterpieces of 16th-century northern European art from The Met collection and one important loan, this exhibition revolves around questions of historical worth, exploring relative value systems in the Renaissance era. Organized in six sections—raw materials, virtuosity, technological advances, fame, market, and paragone—tapestry, stained and vessel glass, sculpture, paintings, precious metal-work, and enamels are juxtaposed with pricing data from 16th-century documents. What did a tapestry cost in the 16th century? Goldsmiths’ work? Stained glass? How did variables like raw materials, work hours, levels of expertise and artistry, geography, and rarity, affect this? Did production cost necessarily align with perceived market valuation in inventoried collections? Who assigned these values? By exploring different 16th-century yardsticks of gauging worth, by probing extrinsic versus intrinsic value, and by presenting works of different media and function side-by-side, the exhibition captures a sense of the splendor and excitement of this era.

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