The elusive truth of art historical inquiry - a Raphael case study

May 16, 2011

The search for truth is in one way hard and in another way easy, for it is evident that no one can master it fully or miss it wholly. But each adds a little to our knowledge of nature, and from all the facts assembled there arises a certain grandeur.

Part of a standard training in the sciences is the ability to apply critical analysis to a set of observations. This forms the foundation of epidemiology and statistical reasoning. This allows medical researchers to evaluate the effectiveness of a treatment regime or medication. When dealing with hard facts, there is no requirement for subjective factors to come into play. Subjective data is of course relevant, but must be analysed in a different way, using measures that are sensitive to these aspects. eg. psychological response to living with a chronic illness, impact on functional capacity etc.

As an undergraduate, students trained in this manner are given journal articles and invited to pick them apart, find logical flaws, invalid assumptions and holes in data. By the time these students develop into scientists and health professionals(etc), they are armed with a methodology of critical analysis that is not assailable by independent bias. eg. showing the same set of data to anyone trained in this method should yield identical results.

What does this have to do with art history?

I think it is best to illustrate with an example. I have recently completed reading the late James H. Beck's From Duccio to Raphael - Connoisseurship in Crisis to further my interests in developing a more complete understanding of technical side of Raphael studies. This book was fascinating - as it sought to cover the topics of connoisseurship, and the methodology of making attributions employed by major galleries.

Beck wrote this very late in his life, and at a time when he must have been feeling his esteem as an art historian and cultural ambassador in Italy could risk the slings and arrows that were to come his way with such a brazen approach. Beck certainly was no stranger to controversy in art historical matters, and is perhaps best known for his vocal criticism of the Sistine Chapel restoration. One certainly can not imagine a young art historian writing such a volume, given the pressures of working within a somewhat insular academic community.

As he outlines, art history academia, and in particular the business of attributions revolves around consensus, not the merits of the work presented. This very political approach to handling cultural affairs would strike many as a frightening prospect - and with good reason. What it means that the power to make significant decisions rests with a small few. There is little tolerance of dissenting voices, often with no public consultation.

Reading this book, one can sense an internal struggle as Beck wrestles with two modes of thought - that which his art historical training has provided him, and an overriding need for thoroughness and responsibility to discover the truth. This says much about the character of the man, to have this internal signal that begs him to ignore the common consensus and get to the bottom of things. This is much easier for those of us trained in statistical reasoning. We have been trained to pick things apart and find universal truths.

This fascinating book focuses on two pieces which sold for staggering sums in 2004. One was a Duccio - sold to the Metropolitan Museum in New York(NY). The other was a Raphael, purchased by The National Gallery London(NGL) for a sum of over 21 million pounds - a significant expenditure of public funds.

Hence, with such a large figure in consideration, one would naturally expect the NGL to have conducted as thorough an examination as possible to ensure the piece they were purchasing was a Raphael. A cursory assessment would indicate they did this - but cursory assessments are not what govern decisions made by medical scientists whose researches can affect the lives of billions. Why should the spending of an amount of money sufficient to fund a new hospital be any different? I would submit that it is not different, and that it should be taken equally as seriously.

Eradicating shamanistic connoisseurship
Connoisseurship is a controversial topic in academic circles, and with good reason. Following the publication of an article in the New York Times, art historian Laurence Kanter was infamously booed when subsequently presenting lectures on the topic. The controversial statement made in the NY Times article was as follows:

"Art history has been hijacked by other disciplines. Original works of art have been forgotten. They’re being used as data, without any sense of whether they’re good, bad or indifferent. No one wants to turn art history back 150 years. But we’re lacking an important tool that we threw out the window 70 years ago."

This type of statement is indicative of the emotive undercurrent of art historical inquiry. Beyond personal factors, this is indicative of habits acquired in training. How can an art historian be expected to complete a rational analysis when these emotive biases are the foundation of the analytical method of their training? Scientific inquiry is by no means perfect, but it acknowledges confounding factors, names them as corrupting influences on observation and even attempts to quantify their effect when possible. Observed effects are expressed in probabilistic terms, often stated as a 'p value'.  You can read the abstract of a scientific article, see the p value and get an idea of the degree of accuracy the researchers have aimed at to refine their investigation.

This type of approach is not present in art history, often even in the more technical aspects of conservation science. Whilst it is naturally not required in discussions of a thematic or allegorical nature, when considering dating of works, it is justifiable to insist on this type of thoroughness.

Museum directors worldwide, like many political and corporate leaders reach their role of prominence by a combination of charisma, influence and knowledge. Unfortunately such individuals can develop an unchecked estimation of their own powers to attribute a work. Rather than a systematised, collaborative approach, they develop an ability to sense a work's authenticity by sight and touch alone. This type of assessment is an important part of the analysis, but can it provide the fullest possible amount of detail to allow a conclusive statement?

Being able to discern repeated visual elements does indeed have a role, but this involves careful study and comparison, not a shamanistic display of divination. As an example, I submit this clip featuring Tom Hoving, former curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  This clip is taken from the intriguing documentary Who the **** is Jackson Pollock, which explores the difficulties in securing an attribution for a work owned by Teri Horton, who purchased the alleged Pollock at thrift store for $5. We get to see in action the 'blink' appraisal. It needs to be clarified that Mr. Hoving has no financial claim on the work, and was merely asked to give his opinion for the documentary. Having a look at his method of appraisal raises more questions than answers. Some have argued that Hoving is not a Pollock specialist and should not have been consulted - an estimation of his abilities he does not seem to share. In the course of the documentary several Pollock associates and experts are consulted, each seem to have strong convictions matched by an inability to prove or logically defend their assertions.

In the film, Mr. Hoving seemed very convinced of his opinion, and offers little to support it other than claims he is an expert. The one valid objection he raised was with regards to the nature of fingerprint samples found on the work. I would submit the public would have been better served with more thorough explanation of this point than his insistence we take his word for it. Raphael and Jackson Pollock are of course different entities, but the intellectual bravado curators have in making claims based on scant evidence is something which transcends artistic genres.

Connoisseurship's revised, collaborative role
Connoisseurship is a pretentious term, and is slowly being outmoded from literature. The term stylistic analysis is a more accurate descriptor, as these individuals whom have a great deal of exposure to the work of a particular artist may be more easily able to discern particular stylistic nuances. This may be the way flesh or hair is painted, the manner of preparation of the surface and transfer of a sketch to a final surface. Also considered are the type of pigments used, and the manner of their application. Artists and their assistants will exhibit consistent elements of preparation, consistent factors in pigment preparation and application of the paint.  To date, this type of study of art is its relative infancy, primarily applied by conservators.

In the same NY Times article, alongside Mr. Kanter's statement is a more practical suggestion by Keith Christiansen, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

"Connoisseurship needs to form an alliance with the very academic approach. They inform each other."

Outside the realm of conservation however, it can only be positive to impart some element of this training into mainstream art history discourse. It is only through understanding this broader framework that art historians ability to process information themselves will be enhanced.

Beck outlines exactly such a framework in his book, and in previous journal articles on connoisseurship. It is a nice attempt at rationalising the process an art historian may use to more fully understand an artist and their work. Below is the list as it appears in the book:

1. A visual description of the object
2. Technical description of the object
3. Determination of the subject matter
4. Provenance and any documentary evidence
5. The historical context
6. Copies, versions and engravings of the work under review
7. Determination of the date of the object on the basis of style when no documentation is available
8. The confluence of period style and the style of individual artists
9. Comparisons, analogies and explanations
10. The formation of a consensus
11. Common sense

Introductory courses on statistical reasoning and epidemiology contain a similarly codified rationale. This mode of thinking forms the basis of the scientific method. Below is a simple diagrammatic summary of the steps involved which I created using this source. As can be observed, there are great parallels to be found in the scientific method with Beck's proposed steps for connoisseurs.

Beck's own view of how science can interface with art history is often hard to discern - in some places in his book he becomes mired in the emotions of what obviously meant a great deal to him. There is a great quote from the melodramatic Simon Schama which Beck seems to agree and disagree with, about how scientific methods have not delivered a level of accuracy they promised. Knowing Schama's background, his word on scientific accuracy of testing procedures is made more for effect them being a systematic argument against the validity of the data provided by different testing methods.

Despite this, Beck still makes some extremely valid observations, the most important of which is that art historians are "unaccustomed to evaluate such data." This is the crux of the issue. Conversely, the nature of statistical reasoning used in science makes its investigators more acutely aware of the flaws of a method of investigation. These are described in terms such as bias, validity and often expressed numerically. The technical nature of these considerations is beyond the scope of this piece, but suffice to say a competent scientific analysis should tell you equally what the investigation is unable to show, as to what it has supposedly proven. There is less equivocation to be found in the statements of curators, art historians and scientists tasked with attributing this piece. 

An expensive Raphael conundrum
From Duccio to Raphael contains several examples where Beck uses his rationale to argue against attribution of works previously and currently ascribed to masters such as Michelangelo, Duccio and Raphael. It is the discussion of the process by which the NGL went about securing their solid Raphael attribution for the work known as Madonna of the Pinks which lies at the centre of this book. It was the use of over 21 million pounds ($50m USD) of  public funds to secure this work that is the most contentious issue. Does the NGL have the right to spend such an exorbitant amount when it cannot conclusively prove it is by Raphael?

To its credit, the NGL has now published much of its findings on this piece. This information is available at NGL website and in their specialised Raphael Resource, which is admittedly somewhat poorly designed and hard to navigate. To save readers the time and bother I will present a summary below using a format I am developing for an upcoming project related to Raphael studies. It provides a concise summary of the dating and provenance evidence

Madonna of the Pinks
National Gallery London
Attribution Status
NGL listing as an autograph work by Raphael
Contested by James Beck (2007)

This dating was proposed by NGL staff, and a consensus of 30 art historians with varying degrees of experience with dating Raphael pieces.

NGL official site has various features on this work.
Its general description states "Raphael painted the panel shortly before leaving Florence for Rome."

Its in-depth piece clarifies "The panel was identified as the ‘lost’ Raphael in an article in The Burlington Magazine in 1992 and the attribution has subsequently been accepted by most scholars."

Prior to c.1833 - unknown. No documents from before this period exist.

1833 - Inventory of the effects of Pietro Camuccini. Described as a work 'in the manner of Raphael' and priced at a modest sum indicating a belief it was a copy. nb. The Camuccini were a family of artists, restorers and art dealers in Rome. 

c.1850 - Described in inventory of Camuccini collection, Rome Italy. This inventory was prepared in readiness for sale of the Camuccini collection to the Duke of Northumberland. Hence, an impetus to inflate the price of a potential Raphael can be discerned. ie. It was sold to the Duke as a Raphael.

1855 - Sold to 4th Duke of Northumberland [d.1865] as part of greater Camuccini collection. Moved to Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, England

2004 - Sale from collection of Duke of Northumberland's estate to NGL finalised. 

Stylistic Analysis
There is disagreement in sources of stylistic indicators of Raphael in this piece. Primary attention is called to depiction of the hands, and the right foot of the child.

Professor James Beck (and previous commentators) argue that surviving engravings of this work suggest the possibility of a lost original (Ur) version, of which the NGL version is a copy. In the absence of supportive evidence, this is speculative.

Initial reports suggested a 'fruitwood, possibly cherry'. More recent testing has identified the wood as Yew(Taxus Baccata). It must be noted that the overwhelming majority of Raphael's panel paintings are described as being on poplar wood, as was common in Italian painting at the time in question. Yew is reported to have become increasingly expensive after the early 16th century, perhaps explaining the tiny dimensions of this piece. However, its use in other Italian works of the early 16th century, let alone by Raphael has been difficult to establish.

There is a lack of dating evidence on this panel for the NGL piece. Dendrochronological, Spectrographic, and Carbon-14 testing may be able to shed more light on the date of the panel used. However, these investigations have either not been performed, or are presently not publicly reported by the NGL. 

Pigments and underdrawing
There is differing opinion on handling of pigments in this piece. Arguments against the attribution suggest that the pigments sampled in the analysis, such as lead tin yellow were known of and in use until the late 18th century, possibly early 19th century.

Further tests completed in 2009 report presence of a silverpoint underdrawing, and elements of Red Lake mixed with natural azurite and white. This combination is noted in other Raphael pieces including the Ansidei Madonna and Procession to Calvary.

A sound reading of the analysis reported by NGL science director Ashok Roy will reveal no irrefutable means of attributing any of the pigments samples tested to Raphael. At best, they represent date range of 16th-18th century. Combined or individually, evidence submitted is not conclusive of the 'hand of Raphael' due to absence of documentary correlatives. 

Thematic Source
Leonardo's c.1478 Benois Madonna is commonly cited as the thematic source for this work. This contributed to the purported date, placing it within the late phase of Raphael's Florentine period.

There is no extant Raphael sketch or preparatory drawing showing this specific design.

There are at least 55 known copies in various media, including engravings. The earliest surviving  reference to the theme is a c.1817 enamel copy made in France by Marie-Victoire Jaquotot.  It is noted the depiction of the Right foot of the Christ child is more accurately formed in this reproduction - leading to some speculation that it is a copy of a work other than that presently owned by the NGL. On its own it is not evidence for the provenance of the NGL piece, but simply proof of a common design.

Larger versions of these two images can be viewed by clicking the thumbnails below

Scientific Cross Examination
Mr. Ashok Roy is the head of the Scientific Department at the NGL. The following statement, taken from a symposium technical journal raises some questions:
"...taken individually these observations may not have been wholly convincing in regard to the picture’s date; taken together they represent virtually incontestable evidence of production in the sixteenth century, and, considering most importantly the unmistakable quality of the picture and its many characteristic features of design and execution, it is possible to be confident in underpinning Nicholas Penny’s attribution of the picture to Raphael’s own hand."

Mr. Roy got off to a great start. Yes, there are indications of 16th century Italian painting, but this is not the full story. Scientists must elaborate on all the permutations of their readings. A scientist is disinterested in 'unmistakable quality' - this is the domain of the art historians and stylistic analysts. Most importantly however, none of the evidence presented supports Mr. Penny's Raphael attribution conclusively. Saying "it is possible to be confident" is not the language of scientific inquiry, especially in the absence of readings that can date the panel with more certainty than a three century range, or documentary evidence from a source closer to the early 16th century.

An inconclusion
As far as the NGL is concerned, the above stated factors are sufficient for them to state this as a confirmed Raphael. In their own online glossary of art history terms, they cheekily use Raphael as an example for attributions:

I invite readers of this piece to scan the evidence presented, read the resources provided and seek Beck's book. What I have set out is not a supernatural ability, merely the application of logic we are all capable of. The NGL and their partners are to be commended for making an increasing amount of information available to academic and independent researchers. We can only hope that by encouraging a more rational assay of the evidence that better-informed decisions can be made in the future.

As it presently sits, according to the NGL's own terminology, this piece should be listed as 'attributed to Raphael' - reflecting the doubt over the piece. If independent testing was to furnish dates that located this panel to the early 16th century, it still would not be enough to conclusively attribute it to Raphael. This can only be done via a combination of new stylistic, documentary and technical evidence which take the piece back to its creator.

Beck, J. From Duccio to Raphael - Connoisseurship in Crisis. European Press Academic Publishing. 2007

Falconieri, C. Memoria interno al rinventimento delle ossa di Raffaello Sanzio con breve appendice sulla di lui vita. Rome, 1833 (cited by Beck, ibid)

Klein, P., Bauch, J. Analyses of Wood from Italian Paintings with Special Reference to Raphael. Princeton Raphael Symposium. Hall, M. B. & Shearman, J.(eds). Princeton University Press. 1990. pp.85-91

Raphael Research Resource (NGL online resource)

Roy, A. The Re-emergence of Raphael’s 'Madonna of the Pinks'. Raphael’s Painting Technique: Working Practices Before Rome (Proceedings of the Eu-ARTECH workshop). Florence 2007. pp. 87–92 link

Roy, A, Spring, M and Plazzotta, C. Raphael’s Early Work in the National Gallery: Paintings Before Rome. The National Gallery Technical Bulletin 25. 2004, pp. 4–35  link

Wieseman, M.E. A Closer Look: Deceptions and Discoveries. National Gallery Company. London 2010. pp. 88–91


Benjamin (Ben) said...

H-Thanks for this fascinating piece, which offers so much food for thought. It's certainly curious to me that many early connoisseurs were often doctors or trained in the scientific method (e.g. Morelli and Roger Fry), and I welcome the attempt to apply more rigorous standards to attribution. You're right: it's irresponsible to ignore this when it underpins just about everything else we do as art historians.

Alberti's Window said...

Great post! Like Ben said, this post offers much to ponder, especially for art historians. I agree with what Beck said: "art historians are unaccustomed to evaluate such data." I know that there are some schools which promote connoisseurship a little bit more (if I remember right, the Courtauld Institute is among that number), but I have no idea what type of methodology is taught in such schools. Perhaps there is some scientific analysis scattered among the stylistic analysis? I was not introduced to such training in my schooling, but that was not the purpose of my specific program.

It would be interesting to see if the ideas presented in your post are nestled among articles from "The Burlington Magazine" (which is seen as the forefront publication for connoisseurs of art). I don't read "The Burlington Magazine" on a regular basis; I intermittently use it as a resource for research. Perhaps my occasional use of this magazine is telling in-and-of-itself: there is a separation between connoisseurs and art historians. We've been trained to look and analyze art in different ways.

I agree with what you (and Ben) have said: it is irresponsible and unscholarly to approach attribution in such a light manner. Unfortunately, the art world is always slow to grasp new technologies. Part of this reticence is political in nature, which relates to the "political approach" you discussed (in many ways, I think museums don't want to know the truth regarding the authenticity of works in their collections!). But hopefully the art world will come around, and start to utilize more of the scientific advances (and methodologies) as part of the attribution process.

mary jo gibson said...

Good Afternoon H!

A considerable subject you have undertaken here! Your arguments are astute and impressive. I remember the push to raise money for the "Madonna of the Pinks", I followed the story closely in the Times.

Now that art is widely part of a bank or investment house portfolio, I wonder what kind of questionable attributions will appear over time. Being able to exhibit a piece with questionable attribution as an original seems to be the current accepted practice, adding inflated value to a resale.

Your breakdown of Beck's suggested steps for connoisseurs will be invaluable to novices like myself. Great research and well documented!

Unknown said...

Many thanks for the comments!

@Ben/M - it is wonderful to hear feedback from those actively involved in art history education. I also thought it was important to delineate the useful elements of the stylistic approach.

@M - the Burlington Magazine and the Courtauld are among the leading exponents of this approach. From the Kanter article there seems to be a suggestion that it is offered at Yale, but possibly not as part of standard training. My aim of the strengths and limitations of scientific methods can have a cumulative positive effect on schoalarship, as opposed to the negative perception it presently has.

@Mary-Jo - Thank you for your kind feedback. Your observations are well made - the art/investment market is a big player in this. Some would argue the great sums involved make rational analysis very difficult. Another aspect of this type of approach is also used in the investigation of art crime, which was not relevant to this example, but an equally valid reason for determining authenticity as accurately as possible.

I am pleased there is interest in this type of thing, I look forward to announcing a new project very much related to this topic in coming weeks.

Kind Regards

Jamie Hall said...

Very interesting, even though it's outside my period and my medium (medieval metalwork). I thought the video clip about Mr Hove and the authenticity of the "$5 Pollock" was particularly interesting.

After his "blink" assesment, he wrote something down, and told us it was "Neat-compacted". I love that by writing down his own internal dialogue on the painting, it somehow turns into scientific jargon.

The trouble for a specialist like that is that they CANNOT be wrong, under any circumstances - if he was subsequently found to be wrong, his entire career is in jeopardy, and so he would have to undermine anyone who said different, even if it reached the point where he knew he was wrong. Presumably why many would be too scared to give an opinion.

I makes me wonder how much a person can know about a dead artist, or even a living one. Can we guarentee that they never experimented with different techniques; can we say that Pollock never tried to do a more compacted work? Was there never a time when a master had declining eyesight, and let an apprentice get away with a poorly executed shadow on the fabric of the subjects clothes? There are surely too many variables.

Unknown said...

Great points Jamie.

These variables are exactly why that highly subjective style of old school connoisseurship needs to be revised into something based on more precise observation.

The work Roy et al did demonstrated some interesting congruences, such as the silverpoint underdrawing, the use of red lake and azurite in other Raphael pieces. These are the types of things a collaborative stylistic analysis needs to look for.

Other judgements involve looking at mixing and application of colour etc - as outlined above - this is the preferred way to address these issues, and is best achieved first by examining Raphael's known catalogue, something which the NGL Raphael Resource is attempting to do in some degree. It is of course an expensive and rigorous process, but when such works can fetch the sums they do, it is in some degree justifiable.

Beck also raised the questions of the degree of variation in an individual's work. All things considered, it points to the use of these techniques as an important factor, but *never* the entirety of what the attribution should be based on.

Kind Regards

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

An amazing overview of the challenges involved with art connoisseurship--I had no idea! I'm enjoying learning these aspects of art history.

Unknown said...

Many thanks for your feedback, Vicky!

Part of starting this new project is to make this type of knowledge interesting and accessible to all. Having information open and expressed in plain terms is the key. Anyone should be able to access and enjoy learning about this intriguing aspect of art history.

Kind Regards

David Packwood said...

Sorry for the delay in responding- pressure of work.

You've performed a very great service here H, by making this debate more open to those who wouldn't usually encounter it.

I don't really disagree with any of this, and anybody who knows me will know that I'm an ardent supporter of Beck's conclusions.

Within your more general framework of the scientific methodological model compared to art history enquiry, I've always found it difficult to carry out.

When I did my Phd, words like "hypothesis" and "testing" were used by people who'd obviously never heard of the scientific method. The problem is that there is such a gap between those trained in a scientific field, like chemistry- in Ashok Roy's case- and curators, art historians, who are trained in god knows what, and who just can't meet the science department even halfway, though they sometimes make token gestures using this sort of terminology. This has been going on for a long time.

One other point. I know that connoisseurship has a snob value, but I would be reluctant to jettison the word. I'm not absolutely convinced of "stylistic analysis" because style works beyond the analysis of the object as Gombrich argued. He suggested seeing style not only in terms of morphology, Wofflinian analysis, but in terms of artistic execution. We don’t need to discontinue using the word, but we do need to divest it of its elitism, if possible.

Thanks again for a milestone post!


Unknown said...

Many thanks for the feedback David.

It is worrying to hear of specialists who do not embrace the learning required to come to terms with new developments.

That being said, there are an increasing number that are embracing change, and we should be equally enthusiastic about promoting their work - which is why I enjoy hosting interviews with art historians who reach a wider audience through the web, print and film.

With regards to the term 'connoisseurship', without venturing too far into into semantics - I would submit that it is impossible to divest it of its elitism in this context. It has even entered popular culture in a humorous sense to describe a degree of obsession with a particular topic or object.

Like many terms we have inherited from writers from preceding centuries, it only speaks to a select few. This is not representative of the greater populace, and in the case of 'the pinks' - the greater populace deserves more than to be thrown jargon to justify their taxpaying contribution to the purchase of that piece.

Something similar existed in the Medical world, and only recently efforts have been made to 'demystify' its language, describing conditions according to what they are.

I can't hope to control what others do, but in my own efforts - will use 'stylistic' with the sub-headings of theme and technique. These headings encompass all from the sociopolitical factors influencing choice of subject to the chemical composition of a particular type of pigment used.

Straightforward language is the key to making this dialogue important to a segment of the population traditionally alienated from participating in it.

Kind Regards

Jamie Hall said...

Regarding David's comment - is there a problem with art historians identifying too much with the periods that they specialise in? For example, might someone who specialises in early modern painting be enchanted by the idea of polymaths and natural philosophers. Consequently, they might use the language of science without using the rigour.

I'm possibly guilty of this myself - I often call what I do "experiments" with archaic metalworking techniques, but they don't start with a hypothesis, there is no repetition for statistical purposes, and no analysis at the end. What I'm really doing is learning and practicing skills. Admittedly, I don't claim to be scientific, or even to be undertaking "experimental archaeology", but I do unconscious borrow the language of science.

I've been thinking about this blog post over the last few days, and I wonder if there is a dichotomy here, a little like the "religion vs science" issue, where neither side speaks the proper language to convince the other that they are right, and to even fully engage with the controversy undermines the worldview of each side.

Unknown said...

That is a great point Jamie. In reading some of the more scientific literature on this and other Raphael works, I am increasingly encountering a variance in the standard of reporting.

Reports on the chemical compostion of materials used (such as by Joyce Plesters and Marika Spring) are more thoroughly handled for example than summary pieces like Mr. Roy's report affirming Penny's reading which includes that astounding 'incontestible' statement.

The nuances of statistical methodology are first introduced in undergraduate science courses, hence many working in the humanities, having bypassed this in their training are relying on the interpretation of scientists and in some cases extrapolating from observations themselves - even if just in an argumentative sense, such as Beck can often be found doing.

For example, he refers to the Northern appearance of the colours of the pinks in some areas, and in later sections refers to its possible Neo-classical features. One operating within the facts provided by the data would be more systematic and less emotive with this variance, which I hope is also reflected in my distillation of the data above.

A great resource for this very question is the volume on the Princeton Raphael Symposium, which has the intriguing subtitle of 'Science in the service of Art History' - I will be reviewing it in depth at a later date.

Kind Regards

Anonymous said...


I hope its not bad form to post to an older post.

The Blink observation by Mr. Hoving is very hilarious along with the rest of his animated performance. I say performance because it almost looks like he is doing it on purpose or acting.

This reminds of reading about scandals in the past where critics falsely claimed or discounted paintings to benefit the situation and circumstance. And they were believed and not questioned because they were so well established.

I believe, as you do, there is a lack of the scientific analysis and method that needs to work in tandem with the old school method to give a whole well rounded review of a painting. I applaud your efforts to get a regimented structure around the scientific side of this equation.

Kindest Regards,
Jeff H.

Unknown said...

Thanks for reading Jeff. Hoving's performance is quite infamous. We can at the very least say he had a playful sense of humour!

It's true though, the way forwatd is through collaboration and a formalised common method and language of reporting. Art history is littered with the detritus of verbose banter in several languages, this is one of the first obstacles that must be overcome.

How can we expect a moden student to become interested in the topic if the job prospects are vague and the pursuit being perceived as the domain of certain types of individuals?

Even I would have readily signed up for a combined arts/science course that trained people to be an independent "art authentication analyst" where you got to work with museums, private collectors, auction houses and law enforcement... who wouldn't!

But the path to becoming a "connoisseur" now sits largely in academia and the art market - it's worrying to say the least - especially from the perspective of being able to maintain a neutral stance.

The closest you have to this mode of training at present are conservators, and apart from rare individuals (like Antonio Forcellino) they very rarely will directly engage on topics of attribution.

The future is promising though - there seem to be some "connoisseurship" focused panels at CAA 2013. It would be interesting to see what comes out of it.

Kind Regards

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