Patronage, or sponsorship, is financial support from a wealthy donor or donors that allows you to spend all of your time pursuing the type of art you’re most passionate about, quite often at your own pace. In Latin, the word patron means father or protector. A patron of the arts is someone who protects the arts.

That patronage could come from a wealthy art lover, the government, corporations, small businesses, foundations, or the public. The artists are the ones with the talent, but it’s the patrons who fork out the money to support them as they create that art. If you do get a patron or sponsor, you’ll be in good company. Some of the most famous and successful artists in history have all had patrons.

Here are some of the most renowned ones:

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci, the iconic Italian Renaissance artist, enjoyed the patronage of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. Sforza commissioned da Vinci to create various works, including “The Last Supper” and numerous engineering projects. He was one of the famous artists who had patrons.

During his time in Milan, da Vinci painted famous works and worked on various projects including the design of canals, fortifications, and even a monumental equestrian statue. Ludovico Sforza greatly supported and encouraged da Vinci’s artistic and scientific pursuits.

Da Vinci’s patrons

In addition to Ludovico Sforza, da Vinci also had other patrons, including Cesare Borgia, a prominent military and political figure of the time, who commissioned him for various projects. After leaving Milan, da Vinci had several other patrons, including the Medici family in Florence and King Francis I of France.


Michelangelo was another famous artist who has patrons throughout his career. Here are some of his prominent patrons:

Lorenzo de’ Medici

Also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, he was a powerful ruler and patron of the arts in Florence. Michelangelo received early support and education in sculpture from the Medici family, including Lorenzo de’ Medici.

Pope Julius II

Michelangelo’s most famous patron was Pope Julius II, who commissioned him for several significant projects. The most renowned among them is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, which Michelangelo worked on from 1508 to 1512.

Pope Leo X

The successor of Pope Julius II, Pope Leo X continued to support Michelangelo and commissioned him for various projects, including the monumental tombs for the Medici family in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence.

Pope Clement VII

Another pope who became Michelangelo’s patron was Pope Clement VII. He commissioned Michelangelo to paint “The Last Judgment,” which adorns the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, completing it in 1541.

Cosimo I de’ Medici

Michelangelo also received patronage from the Medici family later in his life. Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, commissioned him to design the Laurentian Library in Florence.

Vincent van Gogh and Theo van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, the post-impressionist painter, had a close relationship with his brother Theo van Gogh. Theo, an art dealer, provided financial and emotional support to Vincent throughout his life, allowing him to pursue his artistic endeavors. He was one of the famous artists who had patrons.

Vincent van Gogh had a complex relationship with his brother, Theo van Gogh. Theo played a significant role in Vincent’s life, both personally and professionally.

Family patronage

Theo supported Vincent emotionally and financially throughout his life. He was Vincent’s confidant and closest companion, with the two brothers exchanging numerous letters, which provide insights into Vincent’s thoughts, artistic development, and struggles. Vincent often relied on Theo for advice, encouragement, and comfort during challenging times.

Theo also provided financial assistance to Vincent, enabling him to pursue his artistic career. He worked as an art dealer and regularly sent Vincent money to cover his living expenses, art supplies, and even to help him secure living arrangements and studio spaces. Theo’s support allowed Vincent to focus on his art without worrying about financial stability.

The relationship between the brothers was characterized by deep affection, understanding, and mutual respect. Vincent valued Theo’s opinion and often sought his feedback on his artworks. Theo, in turn, recognized Vincent’s talent and believed in his artistic abilities, despite the struggles Vincent faced during his lifetime.


Tragically, both Vincent and Theo experienced challenges in their lives. Vincent battled with mental health issues and emotional instability, while Theo faced financial difficulties and health problems. Vincent’s mental health deteriorated over time, leading to his untimely death in 1890. Devastated by Vincent’s death, Theo himself became ill and passed away just six months later in 1891.

Theo’s wife, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, played a crucial role in preserving Vincent’s legacy. She dedicated herself to collecting, cataloging, and promoting Vincent’s artworks, ensuring their recognition and eventual acclaim.

Pablo Picasso’s patrons

Pablo Picasso was a famous artist who had several patrons and supporters throughout his career who played important roles in his artistic development and success. Here are some notable patrons of Picasso:

Ambroise Vollard

Vollard, a prominent art dealer and publisher, became one of Picasso’s earliest patrons. He organized Picasso’s first solo exhibition in 1901 and supported him by purchasing his works, providing financial stability, and promoting his art to a wider audience.

Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein, an American writer and art collector living in Paris, became a significant supporter and patron of Picasso. She acquired many of his paintings and introduced him to other artists and collectors, helping to establish his reputation within the art world.

Sergei Shchukin

Shchukin, a Russian industrialist and art collector, was an avid supporter of modern art. He collected a substantial number of Picasso’s works, particularly during the Blue and Rose periods. Shchukin’s collection, which included numerous Picasso pieces, became the foundation for the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Helena Rubinstein

The renowned cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein became an important patron of Picasso in the early 20th century. She collected his works and supported his career, introducing him to influential figures in the art world and helping to increase his visibility and sales.

Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim, an American art collector and patron, played a significant role in promoting Picasso’s art. She organized Picasso’s first solo exhibition in the United States in 1939 and continued to collect his works throughout her life, contributing to his recognition and popularity in America.

These are just a few examples of the patrons who supported Picasso’s career and contributed to his artistic success. Picasso’s talent and innovation attracted the attention and support of many individuals who recognized his groundbreaking contributions to modern art.

Andy Warhol and Pop Art Patrons

Andy Warhol was one of the famous artists who had patrons who played significant roles in his artistic development and success. Here are some notable patrons of Andy Warhol:

Muriel Latow

Muriel Latow was one of Warhol’s earliest patrons and supporters. She provided him with his first public exhibition in 1962 at the Hugo Gallery in New York City. Latow also introduced Warhol to prominent art collectors and gallery owners, helping him establish connections in the art world.

Eleanor Ward

Eleanor Ward, the owner of the Stable Gallery in New York, became one of Warhol’s key patrons. She hosted his first solo exhibition in 1964, which featured his famous “Campbell’s Soup Cans” series. Ward’s support and promotion of Warhol’s work helped solidify his reputation as a leading figure in the Pop Art movement.

Sammlung Ludwig

The Sammlung Ludwig, a German art collection led by Peter and Irene Ludwig, became significant patrons of Warhol’s work. They began collecting Warhol’s art in the 1960s and continued to do so throughout their lives. Their extensive collection includes numerous iconic Warhol pieces and helped elevate his status as an internationally recognized artist.

Fred Hughes

Fred Hughes was an influential art dealer and curator who became Warhol’s manager and close collaborator in the 1970s. Hughes played a crucial role in promoting Warhol’s work, managing his business affairs, and connecting him with high-profile clients and collectors.

Gunter Sachs

Gunter Sachs, a German art collector and industrialist, was a major patron of Warhol in the 1970s. Sachs acquired numerous Warhol artworks, including portraits of himself and his then-wife Brigitte Bardot. Sachs’s support further enhanced Warhol’s international reputation and financial success.

Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dalí had several patrons throughout his career, but one of the most notable and influential was the art collector and patron, Edward James. Edward James, a British poet and aristocrat, played a significant role in supporting Dalí’s work and promoting his career.

Edward James first encountered Dalí’s art in 1936 and was immediately captivated by his unique style and surrealistic vision. James began collecting Dalí’s works and became one of his most devoted patrons. He not only purchased numerous artworks but also provided financial support and commissioned several significant projects.

One of the most famous collaborations between Dalí and Edward James was the Lobster Telephone, a surrealist sculpture created in 1936. James commissioned Dalí to make the piece, which has since become an iconic symbol of surrealism.

These are just a few examples of the many famous artists who had patrons and relationships that have shaped art history. Each relationship had its own unique dynamics and impact on the artists’ careers and artistic output.

To find out more about artist patronage, check out “From the King’s Court to Kickstarter: Patronage in the Modern Era”.

Artists have been hit particularly hard during Covid for the past couple of years. But it’s not the first time in history that that’s happened. Since history does tend to repeat itself, it’s smart for artists to emulate what artists have done in the past to survive and thrive during the most trying of times. The ones that thrived used artist patronage.

Artist patronage – William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was at the top of his game. The Renaissance was roaring along, giving artists the chance for the first time to be entrepreneurs. This meant they no longer had to choose between working for just the church or the state. They could create their own businesses with the help of wealthy patrons. They could work for anyone who had the money to pay them. Shakespeare used this to his advantage and started looking for as many patrons, and as many different types of patrons as he could find. He got a jump start on artist patronage.

Patronage from the Queen

Shakespeare’s first royal patron was Queen Elizabeth. She loved drama. Especially the study of the ancient classical period, which Shakespeare would perform for her at her court.“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was probably one of the plays that was done as a private performance. During the Queen’s forty-five-year reign, London went through a cultural awakening, and England prospered during the second half of her reign. Professional theaters were built in England for the first time and her love of theater gave birth to literary geniuses such as Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Ben Jonson through her generous patronage. It was one of the golden ages in English literature.

Artist patronage during the plague

Shakespeare also had other things working in his favor. The invention of printing meant that many more people would be able to read his works. His biggest competitors, Robert Greene and Christopher Marlowe, had both just passed away. It was a fabulous time to be an artist, and an even better time to be William Shakespeare. Luck and timing were on his side. That is, until……the Bubonic Plague broke out. Theaters were boarded up and ordered closed until further notice. (sound familiar?) This caught artists by surprise, who relied on the theater for their livelihood.

Artist diversification

But Shakespeare had learned early on that you have to diversify — and have a backup plan. Though Shakespeare is known as one of the best and most prolific writers in history, it wasn’t just his writing alone that made him wealthy. He became a shareholder in a joint-stock company and leading cast member for two decades. So, he was making money as a writer, actor, and business owner. But even with multiple streams of income, the challenges he would face were numerous: competition, censorship, fire, war, and of course, the Plague.

The King’s Men

Shakespeare’s company was called The King’s Men, and they were in the middle of one of the best theatrical seasons ever with “King Lear” and “Macbeth” when they were forced to close their doors. The Bubonic Plague was raging and they had no choice. All of that hard work was shut down in an instant until further notice. Shakespeare still had a family to feed, so he got to work and pivoted into a different direction.

Patronage of artists

This is when Shakespeare sought out the patronage of the Earl of South Hampton. He was a very wealthy and spoiled young man who was dipping his toe into the patronage of artists and poets. Shakespeare was already known for his plays, and admired by the Earl. Shakespeare knew that the Earl was facing a huge fine if he didn’t marry by a certain age, and he was prepared to do his part in helping to resolve that problem. He pledged his service to the Earl. The Earl’s patronage during the Plague allowed him to spend his free time writing without having to worry about paying the bills. So, when the Plague was over, he was further along than many of the other writers of the time who had spent their time touring through the countryside for whatever money and free meals they could get.

Most artists wouldn’t have thought about the possibility of becoming a matchmaker. After all, they were artists! But Shakespeare didn’t think like other artists.

Shakespeare reinvented

Shakespeare reinvented himself during this period by writing and publishing two long poems, “Venus and Adonis” and the “Rape of Lucrece”. Writing poetry stretched his creativity and writing skills, and ultimately made him rich. His playwriting also improved, and he was ready to hit the ground running as soon as the theaters reopened. The hard times taught him to become more prolific – and they reinforced the value of diversifying his income streams.

With a portfolio of wealthy patrons and a rabid following of fans of his plays, Shakespeare was able to do something few of his fellow artists could do. He simply made a living with his art alone. He was able to continue writing at a time when the plague had the theaters closed down. Shakespeare used his time wisely, writing poems and sonnets when he couldn’t make money writing plays. And he was diversified in his art and in his financial portfolio. He was using artist patronage to his advantage.

The modern day artist as entrepreneur

Today, artists can do the same thing as an entrepreneur. But most artists still choose the traditional route of waiting to be hired by someone. This guarantees they will always be under someone else’s control, will never get the lion’s share of the profits, and won’t have creative control. Some A list celebrities have managed to negotiate these things, but the A list makes up only a tiny fraction of artists out there.

Today there are playwrights who want to follow in Shakespeare’s shoes and create a career as an entrepreneurial artist where they do get creative control and profit sharing. These entrepreneurial artists are using the same methods the Lord Chamberlain’s Men used, and some are even creating new business models that would make William Shakespeare proud.