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For other uses, see Patronage (disambiguation).
"Patron" redirects here. For other uses, see Patron (disambiguation).

Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings, popes and the wealthy have provided to artists such as musicians, painters, and sculptors. It can also refer to the right of bestowing offices or church benefices, the business given to a store by a regular customer, and the guardianship of saints. The word "patron" derives from the Latin patronus, "patron," one who gives benefits to his clients (see Patronage in ancient Rome).

In some countries the term is used to describe political patronage, which is the use of state resources to reward individuals for their electoral support. Some patronage systems are legal, as in the Canadian tradition of the Prime Minister to appoint senators and the heads of a number of commissions and agencies; in many cases, these appointments go to people who have supported the political party of the Prime Minister. As well, the term may refer to a type of corruption or favoritism in which a party in power rewards groups, families, ethnicities for their electoral support using illegal gifts or fraudulently awarded appointments or government contracts.[1]


From the ancient world onward, patronage of the arts was important in art history. It is known in greatest detail in reference to medieval and Renaissance Europe, though patronage can also be traced in feudal Japan, the traditional Southeast Asian kingdoms, and elsewhere—art patronage tended to arise wherever a royal or imperial system and an aristocracy dominated a society and controlled a significant share of resources. Samuel Johnson defined a patron as "one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help".[2]

Rulers, nobles and very wealthy people used patronage of the arts to endorse their political ambitions, social positions, and prestige. That is, patrons operated as sponsors. Most languages other than English still use the term mecenate, derived from the name of Gaius Maecenas, generous friend and adviser to the Roman Emperor Augustus. Some patrons, such as the Medici of Florence, used artistic patronage to "cleanse" wealth that was perceived as ill-gotten through usury. Art patronage was especially important in the creation of religious art. The Roman Catholic Church and later Protestant groups sponsored art and architecture, as seen in churches, cathedrals, painting, sculpture and handicrafts.

While sponsorship of artists and the commissioning of artwork is the best-known aspect of the patronage system, other disciplines also benefited from patronage, including those who studied natural philosophy (pre-modern science), musicians, writers, philosophers, alchemists, astrologers, and other scholars. Artists as diverse and important as Chrétien de Troyes, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson all sought and enjoyed the support of noble or ecclesiastical patrons.[3][4] Figures as late as Mozart and Beethoven also participated in the system to some degree; it was only with the rise of bourgeois and capitalist social forms in the 19th century that European culture moved away from its patronage system to the more publicly supported system of museums, theaters, mass audiences and mass consumption that is familiar in the contemporary world.

This kind of system continues across many fields of the arts. Though the nature of the sponsors has changed—from churches to charitable foundations, and from aristocrats to plutocrats—the term patronage has a more neutral connotation than in politics. It may simply refer to direct support (often financial) of an artist, for example by grants. In the later part of the 20th century, the academic sub-discipline of patronage studies began to evolve, in recognition of the important and often neglected role that the phenomenon of patronage had played in the cultural life of previous centuries.


While most news companies, particularly in North America are funded through advertising revenue,[5] secondary funding sources include audience members and philanthropists who donate to for-profit and non-profit organizations.


Political leaders have at their disposal a great deal of patronage, in the sense that they make decisions on the appointment of officials inside and outside government (for example on quangos in the UK). Patronage is therefore a recognized power of the executive branch. In most countries the executive has the right to make many appointments, some of which may be lucrative (see also sinecures). In some democracies, high-level appointments are reviewed or approved by the legislature (as in the advice and consent of the United States Senate); in other countries, such as those using the Westminster system, this is not the case. Other types of political patronage may violate the laws or ethics codes, such as when political leaders engage in nepotism (hiring family members) and cronyism such as fraudulently awarding non-competitive government contracts to friends or relatives or pressuring the public service to hire an unqualified family member or friend.

Further information: political machine, pork barrel, and no-bid contract

United States[edit]

Main article: Spoils system

In the United States during the Gilded Age, patronage became a controversial issue. Tammany boss William M. Tweed was an American politician who ran what is considered now to have been one of the most corrupt political machines in the country's history. Tweed and his cronies ruled for a brief time with absolute power over the city and state of New York. At the height of his influence, Tweed was the third-largest landowner in New York City, a director of the Erie Railway, the Tenth National Bank, and the New-York Printing Company, as well as proprietor of the Metropolitan Hotel.[6] At times he was a member of the United States House of Representatives, the New York City Board of Advisors, and the New York State Senate. In 1873, Tweed was convicted for diverting between $40 million and $200 million of public monies.[7]

When James Garfield became president, he appointed corrupt men to several offices. This provoked the ire of the Stalwarts. Charles J. Guiteau assassinated Garfield in 1881, six months after he became President. To prevent further political violence and to assuage public outrage, Congress passed the Pendleton Act in 1883, which set up the Civil Service Commission. Henceforth, applicants for most federal government jobs would have to pass an examination. Federal politicians' influence over bureaucratic appointments waned, and patronage declined as a national political issue.

Beginning in 1969, a Supreme Court case in Chicago, Michael L. Shakman v. Democratic Organization of Cook County, occurred involving political patronage and its constitutionality. Shakman claimed that much of the patronage going on in Chicago politics was unlawful on the grounds of the first and fourteenth amendments. Through a series of legal battle and negotiations, the two parties agreed upon The Shakman Decrees. Under these decrees it was declared that the employment status of most public employees could not be affected positively or negatively based on political allegiance, with exceptions for politically inclined positions. The case is still in negotiation today, as there are points yet to be decided.[8][9][10]

Political patronage—on a low-level and when not entangled in financial means—is not inherently unseemly. In the United States, the U.S. Constitution provides the president with the power to appoint individuals to government positions. He also may appoint personal advisers without congressional approval. Not surprisingly, these individuals tend to be supporters of the president. Similarly, at the state and local levels, governors and mayors retain appointments powers. Some scholars have argued that patronage may be used for laudable purposes, such as the "recognition" of minority communities through the appointment of their members to a high profile positions. Bearfield has argued that patronage be used for four general purposes: create or strengthen a political organization; achieve democratic or egalitarian goals; bridge political divisions and create coalitions; and to alter the existing patronage system.[11]


After Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin's retirement from politics in March 1923 following a stroke, a power struggle began between Soviet Premier Alexei Rykov, Pravda editor Nikolai Bukharin, Profintern leader Mikhail Tomsky, Red Army founder Leon Trotsky, former Premier Lev Kamenev, Comintern leader Grigory Zinoviev, and General Secretary Joseph Stalin. Stalin used patronage to appoint many Stalinist delegates (such as Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Grigory Ordzhonikidze, and Mikhail Kalinin) to the Party Politburo and Sovnarkom in order to sway the votes in his favour, making Stalin the effective leader of the country by 1929.


Political patronage, also known as "Padrino System" also a slang call as balimbing (starfruit), in the Philippines, has been the source of many controversies and corruption. It has been an open secret that one cannot join the political arena of the Philippines without mastery of the Padrino System.

From the lowest Barangay official, to the President of the Republic, it is expected that one gains political debts and dispenses political favor to advance one's career or gain influence, if not wealth.

Patronage in the tribal Kurdish society[edit]

There is patronage in social life as well. The best example is in the tribal society, where subjects and proteges of the tribe, usually those who belong to the non-tribal segment of the society, receive patronage from the chieftains and masters of the tribe. One of the best examples for this kind of patronage is given in the recent study of Mordechai Zaken, in both his dissertation[12] and his book,[13] whichh has been widely spread, commended and translated, in full, or in part, into number of languages, including Arabic, Kurmanji, Sorani, Farsi and French.[2][3][4][5][6] In his book, Zaken gives many details in describing the tribal patronage of the Muslim tribal chieftains of Kurdish origin for their Jewish subjectss and proteges. The Jewish subjects, as many of the Assyrian Christians, would give their tribal chieftains all kinds of gifts, sums of money, and taxes, commissions for agricultural products and commercial transactions. In addition, Jewish and Christian subjects and proteges would give their chieftains all kinds of occasional and seasonal services, as well as financial support in times of need. This was one side or one dimension of the patronage. Another dimension is the protection, defence, guardianship of tribal subjects, granted by the chieftains and their tribesmen to their Jewish, Christian and other subjects, while travelling through the tribal jurisdiction. At times this patronage was nominal, in a way that the common tribesmen knew that, for instance, so-and-so has been granted patronage by the chieftain. At times, not so often, the patronage was physical, in a way that a guard from the tribe would accompany the Jewish subject and his merchandise, for instance, while travelling through the tribal jurisdiction. Another dimension of the tribal patronage, as described by Zaken in his important book, was the execution of justice by the chieftains on behalf of their Jewish subjects; another dimension of the patronage is the tradition according to which it was kept within some Kurdish tribes: some tribal chieftains and village heads Aghas would transmit to their heirs the social and tribal importance of the tradition of patronage and supporting the Jewish subjects in the Kurdish tribal arena.[14]


Charitable and other non-profit making organisations often seek an influential figurehead to act as patron. The relationship often does not involve money. As well as conferring credibility, these people can use their contacts and charisma to assist the organisation to raise funds or to affect government policy. The British Royal Family are especially prolific in this respect, devoting a large proportion of their time to a wide range of causes.[15]


Sometimes consumers support smaller or local businesses or corporations out of loyalty even if less expensive options exist. Their regular custom is referred to as 'patronage'. Patronage may entitle members of a consumers' cooperative to a share of the surplus or profit generated by the coop, called a patronage refund. This refund is a form of dividend.


There are historical examples where the noble classes financed scientific pursuits.

Many Barmakids were patrons of the sciences, which greatly helped the propagation of Indian science and scholarship from the neighbouring Academy of Gundishapur into the Arabic world. They patronized scholars such as Gebir and Jabril ibn Bukhtishu. They are also credited with the establishment of the first paper mill in Baghdad. The power of the Barmakids in those times is reflected in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights; the vizier Ja'far appears in several stories, as well as a tale that gave rise to the expression "Barmecide feast".

We know of Yahya b Khalid al Barmaki (805) as a patron of physicians and, specifically, of the translation of Hindu medical works into both Arabic and Persian. In all likelihood however, his activity took place in the orbit of the caliphal court in Iraq , where at the behest of Harun al Rashid (786 -809), such books were translated into Arabic. Thus Khurasan and Transoxania were effectively bypassed in this transfer of learning from India to Islam, even though, undeniably the Barmakis cultural outlook owed something to their land of origin, northern Afghanistan, and Yahya al Barmaki's interest in medicine may have derived from no longer identifiable family tradition.[16]


In the same manner as commercial patronage, those who attend a sporting event may be referred to as patrons, though the usage in much of the world is now considered archaic—with some notable exceptions. Those who attend the Masters Tournament, one of the four major championship of professional golf, are still traditionally referred to as "patrons," largely at the insistence of the Augusta National Golf Club. This insistence is occasionally made fun of by sportswriters and other media.[17] In polo, a "patron" is a person who puts together a team by hiring one or more professionals. The rest of the team may be amateurs, often including the patron himself (or, increasingly, herself).

Also, people who attend hurling or Gaelic football games organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association are referred to as patrons.[18][19]



Main articles: ius patronatus and Cardinal nephew

Patronage of Our Lady[edit]

The liturgical feast of the Patronage of Our Lady was first permitted by Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites on 6 May 1679, for all the ecclesiastical provinces of Spain, in memory of the victories obtained over the Saracens, heretics and other enemies from the sixth century to the reign of Philip IV of Spain. Pope Benedict XII ordered it to be kept in the Papal States on the third Sunday of November. To other places it is granted, on request, for some Sunday in November, to be designated by the ordinary. In many places the feast of the Patronage is held with an additional Marian title of Queen of All Saints, of Mercy, Mother of Graces.

The Office is taken entirely from the Common of the Blessed Virgin, and the Mass is the "Salve sancta parens". The Greeks have no feast of this kind, but the Ruthenians, followed by all the Slavs of the Greek Rite, have a feast, called Patrocinii sanctissimæ Dominæ etc., or Pokrov Bogorodicy, fixed on 1 October, which, however, would seem to correspond more with the Catholic Feast of the Scapular.


See main article Parish

In the Church of England, patronage is the commonly used term for the right to present a candidate to a benefice.


The Church Patronage (Scotland) Act 1711, (in force until 1874) resulted in multiple secessions from the Church of Scotland, leading to the establishment of the Free Church of Scotland (meaning, Free from state interference).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For a recent study of political patronage in the People's Republic of China, see Hillman, Ben. Patronage and Power: Local State Networks and Party-state Resilience in Rural China Stanford University Press, 2014.
  2. ^ Quoted in Michael Rosenthal, Constable, London: Thames and Hudson, 1987, p. 203.
  3. ^ F. W. Kent et al., eds.,Patronage, Art, and Society in Renaissance Italy, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1987.
  4. ^ Cedric C. Brown, Patronage, Politics, and Literary traditions in England, 1558–1658, Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1993.
  5. ^ "Pew: Impact Of Billionaire Funded Journalism Is Tiny". 
  6. ^ Ackerman, Kenneth D. (2005). Boss Tweed. New York: Carrol & Graf Publishers. p. 2. ISBN 0-7867-1686-X. 
  7. ^ "Boss Tweed", Gotham Gazette, New York, 4 July 2005.
  8. ^ "Shakman Decrees". Encyclopedia of Chicago. 
  9. ^ "The Shakman Decrees". Cook FP Shakman. 
  11. ^ Bearfield, Domonic A. (January–February 2009). "What Is Patronage? A Critical Reexamination". Public Administration Review (Oxford, UK: Blackwell) 69 (1): 64–76. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6210.2008.01941.x. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  12. ^ Tribal Chieftains and their Jewish Subjects in Kurdistan: A Comparative Study in Survival,” the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2003)
  13. ^ Mordechai Zaken, Jewish Subjects and their Tribal Chieftains in Kurdistan: A Study in Survival, in Jewish Identities in a Changing World, vol. 9 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007)
  14. ^ Mordechai Zaken, Jewish Subjects and their Tribal Chieftains in Kurdistan: A Study in Survival, Leiden and Boston, Brill, 2007.
  15. ^ [1], British Monarchy website, London.
  16. ^ History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume 4, Part 2 By C. E. Bosworth, M.S.Asimov, page 300
  17. ^ Davis, Seth: The difference between patrons and fans, Golf.com, April 6 2007.
  18. ^ McGee, Eugene (2010-10-04). "'Rules' critics must look at bigger picture". Irish Independent. Retrieved 2010-10-04. 
  19. ^ "A new tradition in the GAA?". Irish Times. 2010-09-21. Retrieved 2010-10-04. 


External links[edit]

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Boston Herald

Fri, 01 Aug 2014 16:15:00 -0700

"By signaling his acceptance of the patronage system, Walsh undermined trust. The only way to get it back is to reverse his comments,and loudly proclaim that he expects city officials to hire workers on the basis of merit, period," the Globe said. John ...
The Patriot Ledger (blog)
Fri, 01 Aug 2014 10:03:48 -0700

This has often been called patronage but the US attorney turned it into some type of mail fraud offense. (Be careful what you put in the U.S. mail.) After listening to a multitude of witnesses in a case stretching out for months, the jurors figured ...
Thu, 31 Jul 2014 11:45:00 -0700

Perhaps as homage to the previous king of Tory patronage, Conservatives have made Brian Mulroney's daughter Caroline their latest patronage appointment. Two of these appointments, Mr. McQueen (Rosedale) and Ms. Mulroney Lapham (Forest Hill) hail ...
Boston Globe
Fri, 25 Jul 2014 22:26:15 -0700

The process for hiring must be transparent, and I will call for an immediate moratorium on 'patronage' jobs in my Administration, even if giving out such jobs technically is legal under current law. Further, I will propose legislation in my first 100 ...


Mon, 28 Jul 2014 15:02:09 -0700

Still, there are good reasons why voters hate patronage. For one, plenty of non-politically connected people and businesses could use work, especially as Long Island recovers from the Great Recession. For another, being politically connected does not ...
Fri, 01 Aug 2014 02:11:15 -0700

Political patronage has been a common practice in political systems everywhere, to award positions of power or special favours to those people and businesses that helped the leader to attain the position. Also called a 'spoils system', the phrase comes ...
Premium Times
Thu, 31 Jul 2014 04:26:15 -0700

Commuters and transporters on Wednesday blamed low patronage of motor parks in the Abuja on current security challenges in the country. Some of the transporters said that the parks had witnessed the lowest traffic for the first time during a religious ...
Leadership Newspapers
Thu, 31 Jul 2014 18:42:54 -0700

The fiesta which was almost marred by inadequate funding from the government ended but not without exhibitors and participants sharing gloomy tales of how insecurity and poor publicity resulted to poor patronage despite the high quality of craftworks ...

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