Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci
The physical appearance of artists’ shops of the Renaissance was no different from that of many other crafts. The word “artist” as a generic term was almost never used: a painter was called a painter, a sculptor a sculptor, and so on. They were seen as members of a particular occupation, not, as in our day, as people with a vision and a calling. They had no special title which implied that, either by vocation or inspiration, they were different from any other group of craftsmen.
Often located together in the same area of town, the shops of Renaissance artists were usually small rooms opened to the street by the raising of heavy wooden shutters. Several illustrations from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries depict craftsmen at work in these humble, semi-public shops. A number of similar structures still survive on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, although these are now filled with the stores of some of the world’s most exclusive jewelers. In Italian cities one can still get an impression of what these artists’ shops, or botteghe, were like by looking at the small shops of carpenters or gilders, which are usually open to the street and filled with the same kind of hurlyburly that characterized their Renaissance forerunners.
The production of art was, first and foremost, a cooperative venture. Within the shop there was an organization and working procedure developed through long experience to allow maximum efficiency. At the head of the organization was the master, who obtained the commissions and oversaw all the shop’s activities. It was his reputation and his ability to attract work that kept the shop going. Some work was done for the market without commission, but probably not enough to keep the shop in business full time.