On Connoisseurship

Lionello Venturi, 1934

Venturi was professor of art history at the University of Turin in the thirties He was one of the first anti-fascist intellectuals to leave Italy after Mussolini’s rise to power. Today he is remembered and valued for his ideas on the theory and history of art criticism.

Now it is evident that nobody can be a connoisseur of the art of all time and places; but even for limited epochs true connoisseurs, those who commit few errors, are very rare. The practice of the connoisseur is one which derives from the habit of looking and re-looking at the works of art of a certain period. By intuition those works of art are distinguished as belonging to individual groups, the individual groups are placed in relation to antecedents and successors, in the individual groups is seen the development of style from one work to another, and from the quality of a group is deduced if a work of art to be classified is worthy to enter it, or should be excluded; whether it be an original, and how preserved, or a copy, and of what time, or, finally, a forgery. Philological criticism of written sources must precede the judgment of the connoisseur: if there is not at least one indubitable work of the master, verified as such from written sources, the basis of the knowledge of that master naturally disappears. But when there is a verified work of the master, and the authentic part reveals the style of the master: the technical, figurative and iconographical elements allow the individuation of the artist. It is no longer a case of the empirical personality which answers to this or that name; it is a case of knowing the personality of the artist in his art; and then the comprehension of the connoisseur is truly the basis of art criticism.

©1998 R de Koster