Artibus et Historiae no. 18 (IX)1988, ISSN 0391-9064
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GARY SCHWARTZ - Connoisseurship: The Penalty of Ahistoricism
In order to attribute an undocumented work, the connoisseur assesses its stylistic and technical relation to works of known authorship. It is argued here that these means are insufficient to achieve the stated purpose of connoisseurship. The archives are full of names of artists to which connoisseurs, for lack of comparative material, have never been able to attach a single work. Their creations presumably accrete to the names of "known" artists. This process itself undermines the basic assumption of the connoisseur that "something which cannot be lost reveals itself in [the artist's] every expression" (Friedländer). If the connoisseur's categories do not correspond to the artistic personalities of individual creators, to what historical reality do they correspond?
As opposed to the ahistorical of establishing authorship ("this work is by X because it has such-and-such aesthetic and technical traits"), it is proposed that priority be given to arguments founded on historical evidence ("this work is by X because these-and-these documents indicate it is"). Fewer existing works will retain a positive attribution, but the historical picture will become clearer and richer. Art history in general would benefit, it is argued, from a sharper distinction between the study and criticism of existing objects and the reconstruction of the role of art history.