Associations of individuals who practice specific trades, their purpose to control standards and maintain the monopoly of their activities. Although the concept of forming associations with members who share a particular interest had existed since antiquity, it was not until the late Middle Ages that guilds came to play a key role in the urban economy. In England, France, the Low Countries, Germany, and Italy the earliest medieval guilds were related to the textile industry. By the 13th century, France was completely dominated by the guild system, with every trade, including prostitution, well represented. In Florence, guilds were ranked according to the occupations of its members. The 7 Greater Guilds were those in prestigious professions, such as banking, law, and wool merchantry, while the 14 Lesser Guilds represented the smaller craftsmen and businessmen. In processions, the order in which these guilds participated depended on this hierarchy. In some cases, members of guilds took part in government. In 14th-century Florence, for instance, only guild members were eligible for civic office and, in Venice in 1310, members of the painter's guild were involved in the crushing of a rebellion against their government.
   Guilds often generated art commissions. The Florentine Guild of Refiners of Imported Woolen Cloth, the Arte della Calimala, for example, asked Lorenzo Ghiberti to render the statue of St. John the Baptist (1412-1416) for one of the exterior niches at Orsanmichele. The Guild of Linen Drapers and Peddlers, the Arte dei Linaiuoli e Rigattieri, commissioned from Donatello the St. Mark (1411-1413), and the Guild of Armorers and Swordmakers, the Arte dei Corazzai e Spadai, paid for his St. George (1415-1417), both in the same location. In the North, Frans Floris painted the Fall of the Rebel Angels (1554; Antwerp, Musée Royal des Beaux-Arts) for the Fencer's Guild of Antwerp and Rembrandt the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (1632; The Hague, Mauritshuis) for the Surgeon's Guild of Amsterdam.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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