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An example in coexistence – that is how we might define the intersection between the banking sector and the art world since the Middle Ages. These two extremely disparate fields gradually evolved a number of points of contact, many of which have persisted for centuries. In 2020, faced with the spread of Covid-19, people’s interest in illiquid art investments has waned, but, given the long history of interactions between bankers and people of art, we may conclude that the historical trend is bound to spring back.
The first examples of cross-pollination between banking and art can be traced back to the 13th century, where wealthy financiers would acquire or commission masterpieces as a means of atonement for their sins and as a marker of social status. By the 16th century, as religious influences receded, bankers were motivated by the luxury of becoming patrons of the arts, mythologising their individual power through art and architecture. The most well-known example of this trend was the Medici family, which sponsored the artistic development and posterity of Renaissance virtuosos such as Donatello, Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. In the 17th century, art became a consumer commodity, and would often be used as currency; artists were also known to use their work as collateral for loans. In the 18th and 19th centuries, banks would provide immeasurable support to the founders of the earliest art academies and national museums.
The turning point in this journey for art and banking came in the 1940s, when the art world’s centre of gravity suddenly shifted straight across the Atlantic, from Paris to Manhattan. In light of this tectonic shift, Chase Manhattan Bank president David Rockefeller launched the bank’s art collection programme, which would define the future vision of nearly every finance institution globally. It became one of the first few commercial art collections as we know them today.
Currently, one of the largest commercial collections of artwork is owned by Deutsche Bank. From humble beginnings with the acquisition of the first few paintings, sculptures, photographs and graphics in 1979, it now reaches an estimated value of 500 million U.S. dollars – perhaps a diminutive figure in the grand scheme of things, but Deutsche Bank prefers to feature young, promising artists. The most valuable pieces in the Deutsche Bank collection had been acquired well before their respective authors became household names. Thus, the bank purchased Abstraktes Bild (Faust),Gerhard Richter’s 1981 triptych, for 12 million dollars; in February 2020, it was sold for triple the amount to an anonymous buyer.
Over time, but we may observe how the relationship between artists and bankers has grown increasingly transactional since the Medici era. Today, art is still a hallmark of socioeconomic status, even though most bankers also treat art both as a financial investment and interior decoration that shapes the organisational climate and inspires personnel. Art collecting is often included under the umbrella of a marketing strategy, as a peculiar language of broadcasting organisational values. Where the common journey of banking and art may lead in later decades or centuries is difficult to predict, but one thing remains clear: art will remain a point of interest for bankers.
 Kazakina, K. 2019. Deutsche Bank Pulls Iconic Artworks From Its New York City Lobby. Bloomberg. www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-12/deutsche-bank-pulls-iconic-artworks-from-its-new-york-city-lobby