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BA History of Art / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Connoisseurship:The Theory and Practice of Attribution

Unit code AHCP32201
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course provides instruction in the theory and practice of connoisseurship, in the close study of style and technique with the aim of identifying authorship. Focused on paintings from the 16th to the 19th century, the discussion will concentrate on the key issues of attribution and dating. By foregrounding the physical object themselves this course will evaluate the oeuvres of artists such as Leonardo, Rembrandt and Canaletto and explores the academic and commercial function of connoisseurship. It will also review the history of connoisseurs and connoisseurship, investigating key figures such Jonathan Richardson and Giovanni Morelli and debating important methodological problems such as judging quality and pecuniary value, science versus sensibility, or the impact of technology on our knowledge and understanding of paintings and their authors.


This course aims to provide students with a theoretical understanding and practical knowledge of connoisseurship. On a theoretical level, its purpose is to make students think critically about the intellectual basis of attribution and dating, and the appropriateness of methodologies designed to answer these questions. From a practical point of view, its goal is identifying, attributing and ascertaining the value of set paintings, as well as differentiating originals from forgeries. Overall, the course aims to prepare students for careers working with old master paintings within commercial and public galleries, private collections and auction houses.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Attribute and date paintings from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century
  • Display detailed knowledge of a painting’s style, technique and condition.
  • Debate the validity of arguments and evidence employed to support a given painting’s identification.


Topics covered in seminars may include:

  1. Issues in Connoisseurship
  2. Jonathan Richardson & Son
  3. Crowe & Cavalcaselle / Morelli & Lermolieff
  4. Technical Art History
  5. Leonardo
  6. Giorgione
  7. Caravaggio
  8. Artemisia Gentileschi
  9. Rembrandt
  10. Canaletto
  11. Impressionism

Teaching and learning methods

  • Weekly three-hour seminar
  • Set readings and key images
  • Group presentations and class discussion

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Discuss historical examples of connoisseurial writing
  • Explain developments in the theory and changes in the practice of connoisseurship.
  • Identify the style, technique, period and likely origin of paintings
  • Show awareness of the commercial and academic issues affecting attribution

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Evaluate detailed, technical descriptions of a painting’s style and condition
  • Critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a given attribution.
  • Form a structured, sustained and persuasive argument supporting or questioning the identification of a painting.
  • Appraise the value and quality of paintings from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Visually assess a painting’s style, technique and condition
  • Write detailed technical descriptions a painting’s style and condition
  • Explain concisely the basis for, and probability of, a given attribution.
  • Consider the impact of market forces and the legal implications of a given attribution. 
  • Respond in a critical and informed manner to a class discussion
  • Present research and analysis using written and visual means.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Explain and debate attributions in a professional manner.
  • Understand commercial and legal conditions of the art market.
  • Evaluate a painting’s style, technique and condition.
  • Present coherent arguments in written work.
  • Manage time effectively in order to complete assignments.
  • Present written work professionally and supported by images.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Read and analyse catalogue descriptions of paintings.
Group/team working
- Work as part of a team and leading and participating in discussion.
Engage with contractual and legal issues encountered in the sale or auction of artworks.
Problem solving
Understand technical explanations of conservation work. Assess the risks and benefits of restoration.
Appraise the value of a painting based on its authorship, condition, provenance and quality.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 35%
Oral assessment/presentation 15%

Feedback methods

  • Written feedback on presentation
  • Written feedback on essay
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

  • Carol Gibson-Wood, Studies in the Theory of Connoisseurship from Vasari to Morelli, New York ; London : Garland, 1988
  • Scallen, Catherine B., Rembrandt, Reputation, and the Practice of Connoisseurship, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2004
  • Max J. Friedla¿nder, On Art and Connoisseurship, Oxford : Bruno Cassirer, 1946
  • Thierry Lenain, Art Forgery: The History of a Modern Obsession, London : Reaktion Books, 2011
  • Meager, R., ‘Connoisseurship’, British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring 1985
  • Melius, Jeremy, ‘Connoisseurship, Painting, and Personhood’, Art History, Apr 2011, Vol.34, pp.288-309
  • Carrier, David, ‘In Praise of Connoisseurship’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, May 2003, Vol.61, pp.159-169
  • Lugli, Emanuele, ‘Connoisseurship as a System: Reflections on Federico Zeri's “Due dipinti, la filologia e un nome”’, Word & Image, April 2008, Vol.24, p.162-175
  • Source: Notes in the History of Art, “Special Issue: Problems in Connoisseurship”, Vol. 24, No. 2, Winter 2005
  • David Ebitz, ‘Connoisseurship as Practice’, Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 9, No. 18 (1988), pp. 207-212
  • Gary Schwartz, ‘Connoisseurship: The Penalty of Ahistoricism’, Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 9, No. 18 (1988), pp. 201-206
  • Hal Opperman, ‘The Thinking Eye, the Mind That Sees: The Art Historian as Connoisseur’, Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 11, No. 21 (1990), pp. 9-13
  • Ainsworth, Maryan, ‘From Connoisseurship to Technical Art History: The Evolution of the Interdisciplinary Study of Art’, Conservation: the GCI Newsletter, 2005, Vol.20, pp.4-10

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Luke Uglow Unit coordinator

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