Google Art Project and Connoisseurship

April 13 2012

Image of Google Art Project and Connoisseurship

Picture: Capitoline Museum

Over at Art History Today, David Packwood has a must-read post on some of the art historical issues thrown up by the laudable Google Art Project. Money quote:

Maybe all this highlights the need for professional art historians and specialists to consult with the GAP on issues of attribution and connoisseurship, though overall it’s thumbs up for a very useful resource.

As a Poussin scholar, David (rightly) rejects the above picture (Camillus and the Schoolmaster of Falerii), which is attributed to Poussin in full by the Capitoline Museum in Rome. David says:

I’ve never seen this version before- and now unfortunately I have. I have no idea why the Capitoline have labelled this picture - here seen in situ - a Poussin. Like many of his paintings of the late 1630s, Poussin creates a firm, relief-like picture that usually unfolds from left to right. The colours, the poses, especially the foppish gait of Camillus have absolutely nothing to do with Poussin, or indeed the 1630s. Instead of thrashing the disgraced schoolmaster out of the village, the children seem to be leading him out to a picnic. Compare this with one of Poussin’s stern versions shown here.

I should advise the Capitoline to look for their painter in early 18th century France, a rococo painter with classical pretensions - but no means of putting them into practice. Let us not look but pass on.

I find the possibilities opened up by projects such as GAP and the Public Catalogue Foundation incredibly exciting. Are we not far off the day when the world's art historians (amateur and professional alike) can collectively have access to, and make judgements on, the planet's entire publicly-owned collection of art? Imagine; A Catalogue Raisonne of the World! (And in this world, there is no such thing as copyright.)

Update - a reader writes:

Having spent an incredibly frustrating day searching in vain for the location of Italian paintings (Roman galleries are so far topping my list of appalling/non existent online catalogues) the following sounds ideal: 

"Are we not far off the day when the world's art historians (amateur and professional alike) can collectively have access to, and make judgements on, the planet's entire publicly-owned collection of art? Imagine; A Catalogue Raisonne of the World!"

Possibly the worst thing for art historians is knowing an image is in a collection and yet not being able to find it - or any information about it! Next step - make it compulsory for all works in private collections to be photographed and catalogued online so that scholars can learn from them?  Definitely dreaming...

Hear hear to that. While of course nobody can compel private owners to put their paintings online, it is quite likely that images exist of most of them somewhere. For example, more and more auction catalogues are going online, and then there are image libraries such as the Witt, which may one day be online. The equivalent in Holland, the RKD, is increasingly being put online. And of course, almost all the pictures that we have handled here at Philip Mould are online for anyone to see over at our archive site, Historical Portraits.

Another reader writes:

Over at 3PP (which I discovered many thanks to your blog) there is a piece on the Google project (GAP) and Canal Educatif a la Demand (CED) that further endorses the Google / decent image access revolution taking place (three cheers). On checking just one favourite site and artist, Yale Center / Girtin) I must warn you that what is on the Google site might not be exactly what appears on the collection's own site: a work labelled 'Thomas Girtin' on the site Google is, when checking the collections own site details (link on GAP details page fortunately), given as 'imitator of...' and another (also 'Thomas Girtin' on Google) as 'follower of...' So it would be just as well to double-check information, however good the image.

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