Art History  •  Featured  •  Movements and techniques

The History of Art on Commission

In 2020, commissioning an artwork allows a collector to be involved in the creative process – the result being a uniquely personal piece. In this article, we will explore the history of art on commission, revealing the significance of the practice that has shaped art movements and led to the creation of some of the most famous pieces of all time.


Art has historically been commissioned to convey wealth and status. Particularly during the Renaissance, many rich merchants and government officials commissioned portraits to boast their position in society. The desire to immortalize oneself in a painting gave a platform to talented artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Diego Velazquez to showcase their ability. Indeed, this demand for art even gave artists the opportunity to develop their practice.

The global fame of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is undeniable, with John Lichfield of The Independent writing that the portrait is “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.” Thought to be a commissioned portrait of Italian noblewoman Lisa del Giocondo, the artwork allowed da Vinci to demonstrate his genius. The subject’s relaxed and informal three-quarter pose was revolutionary in the early 16th century and established a new style that is still widely used today. The skillful and effective blending technique known as ‘sfumato’ captured form and atmospheric perspective in order to create a more realistic scene. Although da Vinci ultimately decided to keep possession of the painting, the Mona Lisa illustrates how influential art on commission has been.

View artworks inspired by Leonardo da Vinci on Singulart here

The works of Andy Warhol provide a more recent example of the cultural significance of commissioned art. Known for his bold and revolutionary pop art style, even during the heights of his success Warhol rarely refused the opportunity to create art on commission. He began to work on commissioned portraits in the early 1960s and these pieces rapidly became his main source of income. Many of his subjects were famous icons – Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli, John Lennon, Diana Ross, and Brigitte Bardot, to name a few – and as such, allowed him to explore his fascination with capturing the essence of ‘celebrity’.

View artworks inspired by Andy Warhol on Singulart here

Murals and Government Commissions

The desire to commission art is not limited to individuals, with governments and businesses also commissioning art as a tool to establish an identity. For example, Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to paint ‘The Last Supper’ for the monastery church of Santa Maria della Grazia, while the great Michaelangelo worked almost exclusively on commission, painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling at the request of Pope Julius II.

Elsewhere, Pablo Picasso created a piece to commemorate the bombings of Guernica following a commission from the Spanish Republic Government. This piece is now one of his most famous works and is considered to be one of the most powerful anti-war paintings in history.

Guernica (1937) Pablo Picasso

It is clear that art on commission has had a great impact on society throughout history. From realistic portraits that have documented historical figures and allowed artists to develop new techniques, to influencing artistic movements and making political statements, the history of art on commission is fascinating. Rest assured, you don’t need to be a member of the nobility, a celebrity, or government official to commission art on Singulart, so please chat with us or send an email to begin creating your own bespoke piece today!

Read the stories behind some of Singulart’s favorite commissioned pieces here.