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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art

Recovering the Golden Age

A collector enjoys his treasures

A collector enjoys his treasures

A window onto the world of the Renaissance collector is provided by the following passage from A Treatise on Architecture (1464) by the minor Florentine sculptor and architect Antonio Filarete (b. after 1400, active until 1464). In Filarete’s account, Piero de’ Medici (1416–69) spends a day in his private studio, admiring his prized works of ancient art.

He has effigies and portraits of all the emperors and noble men who have ever lived made in gold, silver, bronze, jewels, marble, or other materials. They are marvelous things to see. Their dignity is such that only looking at their portraits carved in bronze—excluding those in gold, silver, and in other noble stones—fills his soul with delight and pleasure in their excellence. These give pleasure in two ways to anyone who understands and enjoys them as he does; first, for the excellence of the image represented; secondly for the noble mastery of those ancient angelic spirits who with their sublime intellects [have] made such vile things as bronze, marble and such materials acquire such great price. Valuable things such as gold and silver have become even greater through their mastery, for, as it is noted, there is nothing, from gems on, that is worth more than gold. They have made it worth more than gold by means of their skill.

He takes pleasure first from one and then from another. In one he praises the dignity of this image because it was done [by the] hand of man, and then in another that was more skillfully done, he states that it seems to have been done by nature rather than by man. When we see something made by the hand of Phidias or Praxiteles, we say that it does not seem by their hand. It appears to have come from heaven rather than to have been made by man. He takes greatest pleasure and delight in these things.


Filarete (Antonio Averlino), Treatise on Architecture, trans. John R. Spencer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965), 1: 320.