(Eventually... the point long ago made, the cataloguing of vanities got a bit wearying... Hence, the four stars. Also, I can't be sure that her central thesis is correct. Nonetheless, worth a couple of days of reading.)
According to Jardine, in this fascinating book, the explosion of the arts in the 15th century (not only the fine arts - but prints, tapestries, gems, silver works, book-making, credit instruments... etc.) was essentially the result of an enormous acquisitive drive that appeared at this time of burgeoning wealth -- and that led (rather than followed from) to an expansion of trade, globalization, discovery, and empire... that was an attempt to satisfy this drive for a conspicuous consumption that announced that the men and cities involved had attained to pinnacles of worldly success and power. -- Hence, the extraordinary attention given in the paintings of that period to the clothes, cloths, tapestries, hats, turbans, damasks, silks, chalices, gems, embroideries, architecture, books, mirrors, bronzes, velvets, and so forth... in paintings commissioned by wealthy patrons from what were (at that time) essentially craftsmen (i.e., the painters of this period) -- all marks of a bursting forth of material (and of a quite materialistic) culture.
Here is an example of what Jardine is getting at. Look at the extraordinarily detailed portrayal of the material culture contained in the work by Carlo Crivelli
Annciation with St. Emidius. 1486. National Gallery, London.
The woman inside the window is the Virgin Mary. Outside, the angel Gabriel greets the Virgin while conversing with St. Emidius, the patron saint of Ascoli Piceno (Crevelli's hometown, which had commissioned the panel), who is holding a "meticulously detailed model of the town he guides. "The client discusses his ambitious town-planning project with his architect -- or so it appears."
Here is a portrait of the Doge Leonardo Loredan (of Venice) celebrating the new threaded damask and velvet outfit that Loredan had introduced as the Doge's costume as part of a deliberate program of advertising Venice's new-found prominece as a center of high-quality silks.
Vittore Carpaccio, Doge Leonardo Loredan.
The men who commissioned or bought these paintings understood the language that these types of material expressions were speaking… the vocabulary and syntax of "worldly goods"…
Here is an excerpt from Jardine's commentary on these two paintings:
Robert Campin, Portrait of a Man. 1425-30. National Gallery, London
Jan van Eyck, Portrait of a Man in a Turban. 1433. National Gallery, London
"In Robert Campin's A Man and Jan van Eyck's Portrait of a Man in a Red Turban the sitters wear virtually identical costumes. The fur-lined robe of sober, heavy-duty cloth suggests a merchant. So too does the exotic turban, oth for its form and, especially, for its colour. The intense crimson dye 'in the grain' of the cloth is that achieved with Indian lac - a dye made from ground-up cochineal beetles, or from the bark of the trees within which the beetles lay their eggs. Such crimson cloth might be acquired in Venice or Amsterdam, but because the dye which produced its coveted colour had to be imported it was inevitably costly. The red turban advertised the individual's status as a cosmopolitan man of means with access to an international trading center as clearly as Doge Loredan's own distinctive headgear advertised his prominent civic role." (31f.)
"Admiration -- the aesthetic sense of wonder with which the beholder gazes upon the work of art -- becomes here a mental representation in which sensual delight is strenuously linked with an appreciation of the market value of the goods and the urge to acquire. In the mid-fifteenth century the social rise of the merchant brought with it an aesthetic of expenditure -- a visual mode which gave delight through the intrinsic desirability of endlessly varied and exquisitely manufactured belongings, available for purchase. The eye of the onlooker responded with pleasurable longing to the fantasy of possession.... The art of Flanders like the art of Venice celebrated the triumph of worldly goods" (124).