Relative Value is a clever new way to look at historical art periods. The concept is simple: how did contemporaries value the art produced in their day? With constant, global art auctions in modern times, the value of a work of art is easy to establish. This exhibit seeks to understand what people paid for art and design during the Northern Renaissance. With a substantially different financial economy, different lifestyle concerns, different access to fame, press, and raw materials, did the 16th-century Dutch value paintings over sculptures or statues over furniture? The exhibit answers the questions using a standardized asset: a cow.

What You Will See

The small exhibit contains representative works from a variety of fields: paintings, sculptures, jewelry, games, furniture, and clocks. Such a wide variety is on display in order to explore the various drivers of value in the 15tt-century. The exhibit explores the impact of the cost of raw materials, the value of the natural world, the impact of skill and virtuosity, the value of technology and daily utility, and whether the fame of artists added the premium it does today. The exhibit explains why a simple crystal statue was more highly valued than an ornate gold chalice, or a masterpiece of art cost fewer 'cows' than a relatively simple tapestry.

Why You Should Go

In a time where auctions consistently set new records, it is difficult not to wonder how much a particular work of art is worth. It would be gauche for museums to answer that question. This exhibit explores a much more instructive question--not what drives the value of art today (which doesn't often make sense), but what drove the value of art 500 years ago? Guess before you check the number of cows a particular piece is worth: the value will surprise you--especially when you find the most expensive piece in the exhibit.