The concept of “art for art’s sake” may be a fine vision, but the reality of art is often far less idealistic. From Napoleon’s patronage of Jacques-Louis David to John F. Kennedy’s choice of Robert Frost to recite a poem at his presidential inauguration, political leaders have long used art to garner support. The term “propaganda” may get a bad name, but the history of states sponsoring the arts as a means of accruing glory has led to the creation of some of the finest art the world has ever seen, from Diego Velazquez’s portraits of the Spanish royal family to Hans Holbein the Younger’s paintings for King Henry VIII of England.
Perhaps no patron was more influential than the 16th-century Florentine Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. Cosimo used his wealth, accumulated from his family’s moneylending and banking businesses, to finance the creation of a wide array of art