Patinir’s Business

Written on January 11, 2008 by Santiago Iñiguez in Arts & Cultures & Societies

www.SantiagoIniguez.com, Dean of IE Business School.

Albrecht Dürer, the renowned German artist, once referred to his colleague Joachim Patinir
as “the good landscape painter”. Indeed, Patinir was one of the
pioneers of this genre of painting within the early Flemish
Renaissance, back at the turn of the XVI Century. I am particularly
attached to Patinir since his oil on wood “Landscape with Charon
Crossing the Styx”  remains as one of my vivid memories from a visit to
the Prado Museum when I was I child. I was particularly impressed by
the subject of the work, quite pedagogical, and the intensity of its
colours, the deep blue that contrasts with the sharp line of the
crepuscular flax horizon.

What I am interested here is about how Patinir ran his workshop from
a business perspective. He actively cultivated his own image from the
start by signing his early works, not a generalised custom in those
days, a fact that reveals his concern for reputation and brand image.
He was able to adapt to the preferences of wealthy merchant-customers
by focusing on subjects that resembled cartography, contained allusions
to trade or references to travel. In fact, he developed a distinctive
style, a “product identity”, that is still recognisable today, another
competitive advantage.

However, according to some analysts, like Dan Ewing (1), Patinir was
not as prolific as some of his contemporary painters. This is due,
first to the fact that he did not have many apprentices in his workshop
-apparently only one person- whereas other painters in Antwerp had as
many as 10. Second, he did not produce many copies of the same work at
a time when replicating a painting was the only way to exploit
economies of scale. In fact, the workshop of Joos Van Cleeve, located
in the same city at that time, produced series of up to 28 replicas of
the same work. Third, Patinir enjoyed a comfortable life since his
first wife belonged to a wealthy family and was not probably pressed to
work for monetary gain. He probably evolved as a perfectionist, as
shown in the style and features of his works. He opted for a
differentiation business strategy.


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