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Relative Values: The Cost of Art in the Northern Renaissance

August 7, 2017–January 23, 2022
Previously on view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 521
Exhibitions are free with Museum admission.

Bringing together sixty-two masterpieces of sixteenth-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 sixteenth-century documents. What did a tapestry cost in the sixteenth 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 sixteenth-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.

Marquee: Left: Follower of Quentin Metsys (Netherlandish, 1466–1530), with the Master of the Liège Disciples at Emmaus (Netherlandish, active mid-sixteenth century). The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (detail), ca. 1540. Oil on panel, 37 1/2 x 30 1/4 in. (95.3 x 76.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931 (32.100.52). Right: Circle of Jacques du Broeucq (Northern French or Flemish, ca. 1500–1584). Charity (detail), ca. 1550. Alabaster, traces of gilding, 54 3/4 x 17 1/2 x 12 3/8 in. (139.1 x 44.5 x 31.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Josephine Bay Paul and C. Michael Paul Foundation Inc. Gift and Charles Ulrick and Josephine Bay Foundation Inc. Gift, 1965 (65.110)