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  • Enrico Castelnuovo,
  • Jaynie Anderson,
  • Stephen B. Little,
  • Christine M. E. Guth,
  • S. N. Chaturvedi
  •  and Anna Tummers

Term given to the technique or art of recognizing works of art. In the Western world this particularly involves the evaluation, distinction, and appreciation of the work’s quality and, above all, the ability to determine the time and place of its execution and, as far as possible, the identity of the artist. A lack of signatures, precise documentation, and other information concerning most figurative works has meant that the establishment and development of criteria and classification and thus the practice of attribution have been highly dependent on the development of collecting and of an art market. Connoisseurship is not an exclusively Western phenomenon, however: it has evolved alongside the development of collections of art in such countries as China, where the role of the connoisseur was established as early as the Bronze Age.

1. Western world.

(i) Introduction.

  • Enrico Castelnuovo

In the earliest literature on the history and appreciation of art, dating to Classical times and then the Renaissance (see Art history, §I, 1), judgments were already being made concerning the attribution of individual works of art, their quality and value, particularly by great collectors, such as the Medici family, and by those who advised them. Not until the 17th century, however, did connoisseurship emerge as a central concern in art theory, particularly in Italy and France, where the cultural policies of Louis XIV encouraged patronage and collecting and led to the foundation of the great academic institutions and to the development of a historiography of art. With the growth of collecting by private individuals in the centuries that followed, the role of the connoisseur became more important. In England, the theories on moral and aesthetic education of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, combined with the increasing ability of educated young men to make the Grand Tour, were extremely important in awakening a broad interest in art and in emphasizing that a knowledge of art was part of a gentleman’s culture. At the same time, the increasingly popular figure of the dilettante, whose significance as a cultivated gentleman, traveller, and collector of works of art was reflected in the founding of the Society of Dilettanti in London in 1739, provoked the satire of such artists and writers as William Hogarth.

The radical events that followed the secularization of Church property, the French Revolution, and the expansion of the Napoleonic empire in the late 18th century and the early 19th meant that a vast number of paintings disappeared from their original locations. Many of these subsequently reappeared on the art market or were collected by the national museums that began to be established in such countries as France, Germany, and Great Britain at this time, with the result that while many works were dispersed or lost, many were also circulated, studied, and identified. During the 19th century conservators, emissaries, and travelling agents from the large museums patrolled the continent in search of promising acquisitions for their institutions. A new interest in paintings by the early Italian “Primitives” emerged, and examples of such works were increasingly sought, with the resulting brutal fragmentation and sale of the great altarpieces and polyptychs creating new problems for connoisseurs. This led to the birth of a kind of visual philology, a desire for the methodological rigour of the historical sciences and of textual philology. Over the same period, however, important developments were taking place in the history of art (see Art history, §I, 2), with forgotten artists (e.g. Vermeer) being rediscovered and great debates taking place over methods of attribution, for example in the arguments over the distinction between the two van Eyck brothers, which have continued into the 20th century. In the 20th century museums and private collectors continued to provide a stimulus for connoisseurship, although towards the end of the century the role of connoisseurship in art history has been the subject of heated debate (see Art history, §III).

(ii) Development.

  • Jaynie Anderson

Among early sources, the most sensitive respondent to connoisseurship is Marcantonio Michiel in his notes on the patrician collections of painting in early 16th-century Venice: he continually made judgments, such as whether a painting in one of these collections was believed to be by Antonello da Messina or by a Fleming, or whether a canvas was really by Giorgione or only a copy. The theme occurs sporadically throughout Vasari’s Lives, but usually in the context of knowing or recognizing various artists’ styles (“conoscere…le varie maniere degli artefici”). In the margins of each sheet in Vasari’s collection of drawings were decorative elements, drawn by Vasari himself, that were considered typical and even emblematic of the style of the artist to whom the drawing was attributed, thus functioning as attributional labels. By the 17th century, almost concurrently and apparently independently, such French and Italian writers as Abraham Bosse, Roger de Piles, and Filippo Baldinucci were asking how original works of art could be distinguished from copies, if there were secure rules to help make these judgments and whether only artists were capable of giving opinions concerning authenticity, or if “dilettanti ingegnosi” and “amateurs d’art” were also capable of making such distinctions.

French theoreticians attempted to codify Italian experience, believing that it was possible to write an analytical guide to the rules of connoisseurship that could be followed by the growing number of collectors. Bosse (Sentimens, 1649) invented the noun “connoissant,” an earlier approximation of the term “connoisseur,” which was first used in 1670, and wrote the first treatise on the subject, an eccentric work that provoked de Piles to write extensively in refution of Bosse’s opinions. In 1677 de Piles published an analytic and historical account of connoisseurship in the form of a Socratic dialogue, Conversations sur la connoissance de la peinture, in which he proposed that an assessment of quality was the most important task of connoisseurship, followed by the correct attribution of the artist’s name and the ability to distinguish a copy from an original.

By comparison with the French authors, Baldinucci’s letter to Vincenzio Capponi (1687) is a cynical and refreshing antidote and emphasizes the difficulties involved in the practice of connoisseurship. He made the following points against the formulation of rules: whether an expert can judge something or not may depend on his taste; copies may be a mixture of both students’ and teachers’ work and difficult to spot even for the “knowledgeable eye”; and even great artists do not always resemble themselves in their work. Baldinucci’s empirical qualifications about connoisseurship were very different from the essentially negative view expressed by Jean-Baptiste Abbé Dubos in his Réflexions critiques (1719). In this he argued that attribution was an inexact science because connoisseurs were always in disagreement: “the ability to recognize the author of a painting by his hand is the most inaccurate of all the sciences except medicine.”

In the 18th century systematic and reasoned accounts of connoisseurship were attempted by de Piles’s pupil Dezallier d’Argenville and by the English artist Jonathan Richardson. In contrast to the aesthetic position assumed by de Piles, for d’Argenville the primary task of the connoisseur was to observe, classify, and collect, just as the natural scientist (in which subject he was also well versed) classified the objects of the natural world. Richardson’s writings, the first in English on the subject, argued that connoisseurship had a special importance for collectors and was thus intimately connected with the buying and selling of works of art; and, as had been suggested by earlier writers, connoisseurship could be practiced by non-professionals, a public who were not artists and to whom his books were addressed. The link between connoisseurs and the art market was established still further with the publication of Pierre-Jean Mariette’s catalog for the sale of Pierre Crozat’s collection of drawings, the first art catalog in the modern sense of the word (see Mariette family, §4).

With the growth of national museums in the 19th century, connoisseurship and collecting assumed an even closer relationship, and most museum directors, for example Charles Locke Eastlake and his agent Otto Mündler in London, and Gustav F. Waagen and Wilhelm von Bode in Berlin, were expert connoisseurs and rivals in the field of acquisition. It was at this time that Giovanni Morelli invented his scientific theory of classification for making attributions, which he propounded in a series of revolutionary books on the public collections in Munich, Dresden, and Berlin and two private princely collections in Rome, the Doria and Borghese galleries. As a patriotic Italian politician, his theory was a diagnostic instrument for preserving the artistic heritage of Italy. Morelli had studied comparative anatomy and medicine, and he adapted principles of classification from the natural sciences, evolving a hierarchy of comparative anatomical details. His method was derived from that of the French comparative anatomist Georges Cuvier and from German Naturphilosophie as practiced by Goethe and Friedrich Schelling. Morelli’s approach had been anticipated by Luigi Crespi (ii), who wrote in a letter to the antiquarian Giovanni Gaetano Bottari that the most typical and recognizable elements in a painting could be used to determine its authorship. He believed that these elements could be identified in those parts of the painting executed most mechanically and with least attention, the parts that reveal the style of an artist even when he is painting in the manner of another. Later, Luigi Lanzi wrote of the artist’s individual brushstrokes, as identifiable as handwriting and most apparent in the least significant details.

Morelli’s pupils were Jean Paul Richter and Gustavo Frizzoni, but his most famous successor was Bernard Berenson, who realized Morelli’s unfulfilled ambitions when he published systematic accounts of Italian paintings and drawings, grouped according to school and artist, which still remain indispensable handbooks. Berenson also acted as dealer and adviser to wealthy American private collectors, but the accusations of venality and fraud that were made against him brought connoisseurship into disrepute.

In the 20th century some writers, for example the historical positivists, have repudiated connoisseurship and ignored art criticism (see Art history, §III), although there have been some very great practitioners, including Max J. Friedländer, Roberto Longhi, Federico Zeri, and John Pope Hennessy. The scientific examination of works of art has led to the application of new criteria to connoisseurship, the benefits and difficulties of which are best exemplified by the Rembrandt Research Project (Schwartz, 1978, 1988). In the last decades of the 20th century, there has been much, and often heated, debate about the nature of art history; connoisseurship has been under constant attack and is seen in opposition to cultural history but has nonetheless been espoused by such scholars as Stephen Bann and Richard Wollheim, because it is based on the direct scrutiny of works of art.

(iii) Developments since the 1980s.

  • Anna Tummers

Since the 1980s, there has been a growing concern that the 20th-century practice of classifying Old Master paintings may be at odds with early modern categories of thought. Ernst van de Wetering, the leader of the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP), raised the issue most poignantly in 1992, when he gave a lecture entitled “The Search for the Master’s Hand: An Anachronism?” at the 28th International Art History Congress in Berlin. He wondered if the core mission of the RRP, namely to distinguish between the master’s own hand and those of pupils, assistants, and imitators, agreed with 17th-century workshop practice. Would early modern viewers have expected a “Rembrandt” to be purely autograph? It was indeed a crucial issue, with serious implications for attribution methods such as Morelli’s (see §(ii) above). For how could one recognize the master’s hand by studying the least significant details, if those details were not necessarily done by the master himself but possibly by a pupil or assistant?

According to Van de Wetering, not enough research was done to draw any conclusions with certainty. Nevertheless, several authors believed that early modern painters, such as Rembrandt, consciously produced paintings that give the effect of individuality without necessarily painting the pictures entirely by themselves (Alpers 1988, Kirby-Talley 1989, Grimm 1993). The ensuing debate, which continued into the 21st century, highlighted the need for contextual knowledge. Moreover, various other methodological concerns sparked fierce debates.

Authors like Schwartz pondered the very nature of connoisseurship and its ability to produce verifiable conclusions (Pächt 1999 [1986], Schwartz 1988, Maginnis 1990). Was it—ultimately—a matter of intuition and rationalization after the fact or could a clear method be developed? And to what extent could scientific techniques be of use? The RRP was in a unique position to test the relative merits of examinations with X-rays, UV light, infrared reflectography (IRR), or neutron autoradiography (NAR), and its researchers’ decades-long study greatly enhanced our understanding of Rembrandt’s working methods. Indeed, the RPR’s researchers’ extensive analysis and scientific curiosity set a new standard for the study of other famous painters. Despite these techniques, however, the RRP leaders indicated that intuition—rather than a rational method—was at the heart of their analysis (Corpus I, pp. xv[en]xvii; Corpus IV, p. xiii). The integration of scientific techniques thus did not necessarily provide clear answers to attribution matters, and at the end of the 20th century, the scholarly foundation of connoisseurship remained rather elusive.

The early 21st century witnessed a renewed interest in connoisseurship (Freedberg 2006). Several studies yielded insights into early modern views on quality and authenticity, while raising awareness of various types of workshop collaborations (Tummers 2011, Guichard 2014). Meanwhile, various computational analyses were developed to aid in the observation of Renaissance, Baroque, and 19th-century artworks (Lyu, Rockmore, and Farid 2004; Li, Yao, Hendriks, and Wang 2012). While the integration of cutting-edge scientific techniques promised greater refinement in pioneering studies, however, an alleged Old Master forgery scandal in 2016 seemed to highlight the shortcomings of connoisseurship in practice. Following an investigation by the French police in March 2016, a group of modestly sized German, Dutch, and Italian Old Master paintings from the Ruffini collection in Paris became suspect. Auction house Sotheby’s, who had sold one of these works as a Frans Hals for more than 10 million dollars, declared the picture was a fake after in-depth technical investigation and reimbursed the buyer. The painting—like the others—had previously been accepted by various well-reputed connoisseurs, which called for caution and further investigation.


Early sources
  • Michiel, M. Notizia d’opere di disegno nella prima metà del secolo XVI esistenti in Padova, Cremona, Milano, Pavia, Bergamo, Crema, e Venezia, edited by J. Morelli. Bassano, 1800.
  • Mancini, G. Considerazioni sulla pittura (1620), edited by A. Marrucchi, 2 vols. Rome, 1956–1957.
  • Bosse, A. Sentimens sur la distinction des diverses manières de peinture, dessein, & graveure, & des originaux d’avec leurs copies. Paris, 1649.
  • Piles, R. de. Conversations sur la connoissance de la peinture et sur le jugement qu’on doit faire des tableaux. Paris, 1677.
  • Baldinucci, F. Lettera di Filippo Baldinucci fiorentino nella quale risponde ad alcuni quesiti in materie di pittura: All’illustrissimo, e clarissimo Signor Marchese Vincenzio Capponi. Rome, 1681.
  • Piles, R. de. Abrégé de la vie des peintres, avec des réflexions sur leurs ouvrages, et un traité du peintre parfait, de la connoissance des dessins, & de l’utilité des estampes. Paris, 1699.
  • Dubos, J. B. Réflexions critiques sur la poesie et sur la peinture. Paris, 1719.
  • Richardson, J. Two Discourses: I. An Essay on the Whole Art of Criticism as it relates to Painting, shewing I. Of the Goodness of a Picture; II. Of the Hand of the Master; and III. Whether ’tis an Original, or a Copy. II. An Argument in behalf of the Science of a Connoisseur; wherein is sewn the Dignity, Certainty, Pleasure, and Advantage of it. London, 1719.
  • Mariette, P. J. Abécédario de P. J. Mariette des autres notes inedites de cet amateur sur les arts et sur les artistes, edited by P. de Chennevières and A. de Montaiglon. Paris, 1741.
  • Mariette, P. J. Réflexions sur la manière de dessiner des principaux peintres: Tirées de la description sommaire des dessins des grands maitres d’Italie, des Pays-Bas, et de la France du cabinet du feu M. de Crozat. Paris, 1741.
  • Dézallier d’Argenville, A. J. Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres. Paris, 1745–1752.
  • Hogarth, W. The Analysis of Beauty, Written with a View of Fixing the Fluctuating Ideas of Taste. London, 1753.
  • Lanzi, L. Storia pittorica della Italia dal risorgimento delle belle arti fin presso al fine del XVIII secolo. Florence, 1822.
  • Mündler, O. Essai d’une analyse critique de la notice des tableaux italiens du Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1850.
  • Morelli, G. Kunstkritische Studien über italienische Malerei. Berlin, 1890–1893.
  • Berenson, B. “Rudiments of Connoisseurship.” The Study and Criticism of Italian Art, 2 (1910): 11–48.
  • Bode, W. von. Mein Leben. Berlin, 1930.
  • Friedländer, M. J. On Art and Connoisseurship. London, 1942.
  • Longhi, R. “Per una storia dei conoscitori.” Il Messaggero (Apr 28, 1954); also in Opere complete, 13 (Florence, 1985): 149–152
  • Richter, I., and Richter, G., eds. Italienische Malerei der Renaissance im Briefwechsel von Giovanni Morelli und Jean Paul Richter. Baden-Baden, 1960.
  • Longhi, R. “Il carteggio Morelli–Richter.” Paragone 137 (1961): 53–56.
  • Wind, E. “Critique of Connoisseurship.” In Art and Anarchy, 32–51. London, 1963.
  • Spector, J. “The Method of Morelli and its Relation to Freudian Psychoanalysis.” Diogenes: Internationale Zeitschrift für die Wissenschaft von Menschen 66 (1969): 63–83.
  • Damisch, H. “La Partie et le tout.” Rev. Esthét. Revue d’esthétique 23 (1970): 168–188.
  • Damisch, H. “Le Gardien de l’Interpretation.” Tel Quel (1971), 44: 70–84; 45: 82–96
  • Dantzig, M. van. Pictology: An Analytical Method for Attribution and Evaluation of Pictures. Leiden, 1973.
  • Wollheim, R. “Giovanni Morelli and the Origins of Scientific Connoisseurship.” On Art and the Mind: Essays and Lectures, 177–201. London, 1973.
  • Haskell, F. “Un Martyr de l’attribution: Morris Moore et l’Apollon et Marsyas du Louvre.” Revue de l’art (1978), 40–41: 77–88; repr. in Past and Present in Art and Taste, edited by F. Haskell, 155–174. London, 1987.
  • Previtali, G. “A propos de Morelli.” Revue de l’art, 42 (1978): 27–31.
  • Schwartz, G. “Rembrandt: ‘Connoisseurship’ et érudition.” Revue de l’art 42 (1978): 100–106.
  • Zerner, H. “Giovanni Morelli et la science de l’art.” Revue de l’art 42 (1978): 209–215.
  • Berenson and the Connoisseurship of Italian Painting. Text by D. Brown. Washington, DC: N.G.A., 1979. Exhibition catalog.
  • Pope-Hennessey, J. “Connoisseurship.” The Study and Criticism of Italian Sculpture, edited by J. P. O’Neill, 11–28. Princeton, 1981.
  • Bruyn, B., et al. A Corpus of Rembrandt paintings, vols. I–III. The Hague and Boston, 1982–1989.
  • Ginzburg, C. “Spie: Radici di un paradigma indiziario.” In Miti, emblemi, spie, 158–220. Turin, 1986.
  • Anderson, J. “Giovanni Morelli et sa définition de la ‘scienza dell’arte’.” Revue de l’art 75 (1987): 49–55.
  • Anderson, J. “Layard and Morelli.” In Austen Henry Layard tra l’Oriente e Venezia, 109–137. Rome, 1987.
  • Wollheim, R. Painting as an Art. London, 1987.
  • Alpers, S. Rembrandt’s Enterprise: The Studio and the Market. Chicago, 1988.
  • Gibson-Wood, C. Studies in the Theory of Connoisseurship from Vasari to Morelli. New York, 1988.
  • Levi, D. Cavalcaselle: Il pioniere della conservazione dell’arte italiana. Turin, 1988.
  • Schwartz, G. “Connoisseurship: The Penalty of Ahistoricism.” International Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship 7 (1988): 261–268.
  • Bann, S. “Art History in Perspective.” History of the Human Sciences 2 (1989): 1–18.
  • Kirby-Talley, M. “Connoisseurship and the Rembrandt Research Project.” Int. J. Mus. Mgmt & Cur. 8 (1989): 175–214.
  • Kultzen, R. “Giovanni Morelli als Briefpartner von Otto Mündler.” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte [merger of Z. Bild. Kst with Repert. Kstwiss. & with Jb. Kstwiss.] 52 (1989): 373–401.
  • Muller, J. “Measures of Authenticity: The Detection of Copies in the Early Literature on Connoisseurship.” In Retaining the Original: Multiple Originals, Copies, and Reproductions, edited by K. Preciado, History of Art, vol. 20. Washington, DC, 1989.
  • Maginnis, H. B. J. “The Role of Perceptual Learning in Connoisseurship.” A. Hist. 13, no. 1 (March 1990): 104–117.
  • Grimm, C. “Die Frage nach der Eigenhändigkeit und die Praxis der Zuschreibung.” In Künstlerische Austausch/Artistic Exchange: Akten des XXVIII. Internationalen Kongresses für Kunstgeschichte, Berlin, 15–20 Juli 1992, edited by Thomas W. Gaehtgens, 631–648. Berlin, 1993.
  • Wetering, E. van de. “The Search for the Master’s Hand: An Anachronism? (A Summary).” In Künstlerische Austausch/Artistic Exchange: Akten des XXVIII. Internationalen Kongresses für Kunstgeschichte, Berlin, 15–20 Juli 1992, edited by Thomas W. Gaehtgens, 627–630. Berlin, 1993.
  • Giovanni Morelli e la cultura dei conoscitori, 3 vols. Bergamo, 1993.
  • O. Pächt: The Practice of Art History: Reflections on Method. London, 1990 [Munich, 1986].
  • Lyu, S., Rockmore, D., and Farid, H. “A Digital Technique for Art Authentication.” Proc. N. Acad. Sci. 101, no. 49 (2004): 17006–17010.
  • Wetering, E. van de., et al. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vols. IV–VI. Dordrecht, 2005–2014.
  • Freedberg, D. “Why Connoisseurship Matters.” In Munuscula Amicorum: Contributions on Rubens and his Colleagues in Honour of Hans Vlieghe, edited by K. van der Stighelen, vol. 1, 29–42. Turnhout, 2006.
  • Tummers, A., and Jonckheere, K., eds. Art Market and Connoisseurship, a Closer Look at Paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and their Contemporaries. Amsterdam, 2008.
  • Tummers, A. The Eye of the Connoisseur: Authenticating Paintings by Rembrandt and his Contemporaries. Amsterdam and Los Angeles, 2011.
  • Li, J., Yao, L., Hendriks, E., and Wang, J. Z. “Rhythmic Brushstrokes Distinguish Van Gogh from his Contemporaries: Findings via Automated Brushstroke Extraction.” IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence 34, no. 6 (2012): 1159–1176.
  • Guichard, C., ed. De l’authenticité: Une histoire des valeurs de l’art (XVIe–XXe siècle). Paris, 2014.
  • Noord, N. van, Hendriks, E., and Postma, E. “Toward Discovery of the Artist’s Style: Learning to Recognize Artists by their Artworks.” IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence 32, no. 4 (2015): 46–54.

2. China.

  • Stephen B. Little

The earliest discussions of Chinese connoisseurship occur in texts of the Han period (202 bcad 220), but connoisseurship as a critical element in the collecting of antiquities probably extended back to the Bronze Age. By the Song (960–1279), Yuan (1279–1368), and Ming (1368–1644) periods it was a highly developed art. Manuals of connoisseurship covering such disparate subjects as painting, calligraphy, musical instruments, and precious stones were popular from the 14th century onwards. The best known of these is Cao Zhao’s Gegu yaolun (‘Essential criteria of antiquities’; 1389). In painting and calligraphy, connoisseurship has generally been concerned with issues of spiritual and aesthetic quality, focusing on the proper handling of brush and ink, the transmission of orthodox models, and the dynamic expression of the artist’s individual character (see China, People’s Republic of, §IV, 3). The connoisseurship of such arts as ceramics, bronzes (see China, People’s Republic of, §VII, 4), lacquer, and jade also presumes a precise knowledge of techniques, materials, and styles.

While connoisseurship in China often revolved around the determination of the authenticity of works of art, it was also relevant to other fields of knowledge. The early Six Dynasties period (ad 222–589) alchemist Tao Hongjing, for example, compiled the basic texts of the Daoist Mao shan sect from a confusing group of authentic manuscripts and early forgeries through his connoisseurship of the calligraphy of the early Mao shan patriarchs. Forgery itself has long been regarded as legitimate; it has a history extending back several thousand years, has generated its own literature, and continues to be widely practised. In the 20th century traditional connoisseurship based on transmitted wisdom was transformed by the introduction of Western art-historical methods and increasingly sophisticated technical studies.


  • Cao Zhao. Gegu yaolun (1389); Eng. trans. by P. David as Chinese Connoisseurship: The ‘Ko ku yao lun’ (London, 1971).
  • Zurcher, E.: ‘Imitation and Forgery in Ancient Chinese Painting and Calligraphy’. Oriental Art, n. s., 1/40 (1955), pp. 141–6.
  • van Gulik, R. H.: Chinese Pictorial Art as Viewed by the Connoisseur (Rome, 1958).
  • Fong, Wen C.: ‘The Problems of Forgeries in Chinese Painting’, Artibus Asiae 25 (1962), pp. 95–140.
  • Lin Yutang. The Chinese Theory of Art (New York, 1967).
  • Xu Bangda. Gu Shuhua jianding gailun [Authenticating ancient painting and calligraphy] (Beijing, 1982).

3. Japan.

  • Christine M. E. Guth

Many of the aesthetic ideals that have guided the judgement of quality in art in Japan can be traced to a tradition of literary criticism associated with poetry that evolved in the Heian period (794–1184). This tradition emphasized the importance of genuine emotional expression, as awakened by the beauties of the natural world and seasonal cycles. Connoisseurship was not recognized as an independent activity in Japan until the Muromachi period (1333–1568). The emergence of a new conception of connoisseurship based on recognition of personal style was linked to the formation by the Ashikaga shoguns (reg 1336–1573) of large collections of Chinese art and to the emergence of professional cultural advisers (dōbōshū). The dōbōshū, the most noteworthy of whom were Nōami (1397–1471), Geiami (1431–85), and Sōami (d 1525), established connoisseurship as a professional activity by formulating a system of classification, identification, and attribution for Chinese painting, ceramics, and lacquer. Later applied also to Japanese art, this critical approach guided artists, collectors, and connoisseurs until the Meiji era (1868–1912). The rise of the dōbōshū in the 15th and 16th centuries coincided with the growing popularity of the tea ceremony (chanoyu), a practice that had a profound impact on the development of aesthetic discernment and taste, particularly in the realms of ceramics, lacquer, and metalwork (see also Japan, §XV, 1).

Connoisseurship during the Edo period (1600–1868) was dominated by professionals rather than by discriminating amateurs. These professionals were chiefly painters of the hereditary Kanō family and Tosa family schools; the most respected were painters-in-attendance to the Tokugawa shoguns and had access to their patrons’ vast collections. Professional connoisseurs determined the authorship and quality of works on the basis of subject, style, and seals, often adding their own signatures, seals, and comments to attest to their authenticity. Painters of the Kanō and Tosa schools active in the 17th century also wrote the first art criticism. For the most part, these texts do little more than reiterate aesthetic principles, such as that of spirit resonance or life force (Chin. qi yun; Jap. kiin) found in earlier Chinese treatises. The writings of artists affiliated with the Nanga (literati) style, which appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries, while also indebted to Chinese art theory, are more interpretive in character. Kanō artists stressed the importance of adherence to models and technical merit, but their Nanga rivals stressed personal expressiveness as the most important quality in art.

See also Japan, §XXIII.


  • Fenollosa, E. Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art, 2 vols (New York, 1912/R 1963).
  • Munro, T. Oriental Aesthetics (Cleveland, OH, 1956).
  • Ueda, M.: Literary and Art Theories in Japan (Cleveland, OH, 1967).

4. Islamic lands.

The connoisseurship of works of Islamic art in the Islamic lands has largely focused on the arts of the book, which are highly prized (see Islamic art, §III). There is, however, no tradition of writing about connoisseurship, so evidence for its history has to be extracted from chronicles, connoisseurs’ ascriptions, and artists’ signatures. Ibn al-Nadim’s Fihrist (‘Index [of Books]’; 987) shows that distinctive styles and hands were appreciated at a relatively early date, although it is not yet possible to match the names given with particular examples. The calligrapher Ibn al-Bawwab was able to recognize a manuscript of the Koran penned by his teacher Ibn Muqla and replace a missing section with his own work. His patron, Bahaا al-Dawla (reg 998–1012), could not distinguish the replacement from the original, a testimony either to Ibn al-Bawwab’s skill or to Bahaا al-Dawla’s lack of connoisseurship. Signatures proliferated on works in other media from the 10th century, suggesting that connoisseurs cared about quality and were able to distinguish individual hands.

The importance of connoisseurship in Iran is suggested by the increasing appearance of names and signatures. The tradition of naming illustrators and painters can be traced back to 14th-century Iran, and the first surviving signature on a painting (see Junayd) dates from the end of the century. This increased appreciation of distinct and distinguishable hands is confirmed by the habit of collecting specimens of calligraphy and paintings in albums (see Album, §3), which became fashionable under the Timurid dynasty (reg 1370–1506). The bibliophile and connoisseur Baysunghur (d 1433; see Timurid family, §II, (7)) assembled calligraphic specimens by the six followers of Yaqut al-Musta‛simi in the oldest known album of calligraphy (c. 1430; Istanbul, Topkapı Pal. Lib., H. 2152), and the discerning taste of Sultan Husayn (see Timurid family, §II, (8)) is demonstrated by the constellation of poets, calligraphers, and painters, including ‛Alishir Navaاi, Sultan ‛Ali Mashhadi, and Bihzad, with whom he surrounded himself.

Timurid patterns of connoisseurship were developed at the Safavid court. In 1514 the infant Tahmasp (see Safavid family, §II, (1)) was sent as governor to Herat, where he was trained in calligraphy and exposed to the flourishing tradition of book production. On his accession at Tabriz in 1524, he founded a workshop that produced some of the finest books ever made in Iran. Tahmasp provided a model for others at the court: his nephew Ibrahim Mirza is reputed to have owned over 3000 volumes of calligraphy and painting. Tahmasp’s brother Bahram Mirza ordered the chronicler and connoisseur Dust Muhammad to prepare an album (1544; Istanbul, Topkapı Pal. Lib., H. 2154) with specimens attributed to individual hands. The preface gives a history of Persian painting and calligraphy as well as a suggestion of contemporary views of quality. Prefaces to two contemporary albums prepared for other Safavid collectors give further details on the history of these arts and include some general remarks on aesthetic appreciation. An even more detailed account is provided by Qazi Ahmad, the son of Ibrahim Mirza’s secretary, who had a detailed and personal knowledge of calligraphers and painters and their works.

The widespread appreciation of Persian calligraphy and painting and the emigration, voluntary or forced, of artists to Ottoman and Mughal courts stimulated the connoisseurship of these arts there. The Ottoman intellectual and bureaucrat Mustafa ‛Ali composed his Manāqib-i hunarvarān (‘Virtues of artists’) for Sultan Murad III (reg 1574–95), a noted connoisseur who had splendid albums compiled (e.g. Vienna, Österreich. Nbib., Cod. Mixt. 313). Perhaps the most noted connoisseur of Persian painting was the Mughal emperor Jahangir (reg 1605–27), who prided himself on his ability to attribute paintings to specific artists (see Indian subcontinent, §VI, 4, (i), (c)). His attributions appear in some of the finest books that passed from Sultan Husayn to the Mughal library. For example, he attributed paintings in Sharaf al-Din Yazdi’s Zafarnāma (‘Book of victory’, 1467; Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins U., Garrett Lib.) and Nizami’s Khamsa (‘Five poems’, 1495–6; London, BL, Or. MS. 6810) to Bihzad. Most modern scholars have accepted Jahangir’s attributions in the Zafarnāma, but opinions vary about those in the Khamsa because its paintings also contain attributions to other artists.


  • Mustafa ‛Ālī. Manāqib-i hunarvarān [Virtues of artists] (1587); ed. M. Cunbur as Hattatların ve kitab sanatçılarının destanları [Stories of calligraphers and book illustrators] (Ankara, 1982).
  • Qādī Ahmad ibn Mīr Munshī. Gulistān-i hunar [Garden of the Arts] (1606); Eng. trans. by V. Minorsky as Calligraphers and Painters (Washington, DC, 1959).
  • Dodge, B., ed. The ‘Fihrist’ of al-Nadim: A Tenth-century Survey of Muslim Culture, 2 vols (New York, 1970).
  • Alsop, J. The Rare Art Traditions: The History of Art Collecting and its Linked Phenomena (Princeton and New York, 1982).
  • Thackston, W. M., trans. A Century of Princes (Cambridge, MA, 1989), pp. 335–56 [contains Dust Muhammad’s preface to the Bahram Mirza Album, Malik Daylami’s preface to the Amir Husayn Beg Album and Mir Sayyid Ahmad’s preface to the Amir Ghayb Beg Album].
  • Seyller, J.: ‘A Mughal Code of Connoisseurship’, Muqarnas 17 (2000), pp. 176–202.
  • Roxburgh, D.: Prefacing the Image: The Writing of Art History in Sixteenth-Century Iran (Leiden, 2001).
  • Thackston, W. Album Prefaces and Other Documents on the History of Calligraphers and Painters (Leiden, 2001).
  • Roxburgh, D.: The Persian Album 1400–1600: From Dispersal to Collection (New Haven, 2005).

5. India.

  • S. N. Chaturvedi

In contrast to the Western concept of the connoisseur, the equivalent Sanskrit terms bhāvaka, sahṛdaya, and rasika connote the ability to appreciate aesthetic experience through empathy and are derived from words signifying feeling or sentiment. A bhāvaka is one who intuitively grasps the feel and form of ‘experience’ (bhāva) arising from a work of art, while the basis of the term sahṛdaya, a critical judge in matters of aesthetic taste, is hṛd (‘heart’), the source of experience emanating from sublime illumination. Likewise, a rasika (from rasa, meaning ‘flavour’, ‘essence’, or ‘taste’) is a man of refined taste who relishes aesthetic experience.

In Indian tradition, both the creation and the appreciation of art are considered manifestations of genius (pratibhā), a reflection of inner light that illuminates the individuality of the object. Pratibhā has two aspects: the creative (kārayitrī, or the ability to create compositions) and the critical (bhāvayitrī, the capacity to visualize the process of creation and to enjoy aesthetic experience). The appreciation of art by a bhāvaka involves both the intuitive relish of aesthetic pleasure and the critical understanding of a work on the basis of the established artistic canons, which are intended to check wanton deviations without restricting the freedom of gifted artists. While the intuitive quality is primary and immediate, the critical is scholarly; both are essential, however, as without intuition scholarly understanding of the constituents and style of composition could not lead to proper appreciation. Although the aesthetic experience has a transcendental nature, while the canonical rules and regulations pertain to external features, these two aspects are not contradictory, since aesthetic appreciation affords a deeper insight into the significance of the canons: intuition is followed by the cognitive process, which reflects the sublime experience in intelligible form.

Certain impediments, such as lack of genius and of the power of discrimination (viveka), are considered, along with inbuilt prejudices (mātsarya), to obscure the vision of the bhāvaka. An ideal bhāvaka appreciates good expression, relishes the essence of a work and contemplates its inner meaning, being possessed of the ability to analyse the cluster of symbols or words of which it is comprised. Such a bhāvaka is extremely rare and is consequently highly regarded.


  • Coomaraswamy, A. K. ‘The Theory of Art in Asia’, The Transformation of Nature in Art (New York, 1956), pp. 47–52.
  • Kane, P. V.: History of Sanskrit Poetics (Delhi, 1961), pp. 348–72.
  • Raghavan, V.: Bhoja’s Śṛngāra Prakāsa (Madras, 1963), pp. 79, 433–4, 466–9.
  • Coomaraswamy, A. K.: ‘The Part of Art in Indian Life’, Coomaraswamy, 1, ed. R. Lipsey (Princeton, 1977), pp. 92–4.