Thursday, July 26, 2012


The impressive model of art history bequeathed by the confluence of Wölfflin and the Viennese may be regarded as a theory of the middle range. As such, the brilliance of the total achievement was extraordinary. Yet most adherents to this model offered neither a detailed analysis of individual works nor a broad contextualization of art in relation to other branches of human endeavor. Voices were raised, then, asking that the "scale" of art history be extended in either direction. Some favored a phenomenological approach that would savor intensely the particulars of individual works--what might be provisionally termed micro-art history--while others strove to lay the foundations of a generalist methodology that would securely place art works in a broad context--macro-art history.
The particularism of the first trend had its roots in the early nineteenth century, when the humanities sought to define their own sphere, protecting it from incursions from the natural sciences with their reliance on general laws. In Jerusalem (1818) William Blake opined that "[h]e who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars." Towards the end of the nineteenth century the German philosopher Wilhelm Windelband (1848-1915) defined the method of the humanities as idiographic, concerned with specifics, as against the nomothetic method of the sciences, with their striving to formulate general laws.
Art scholars, Windelband's contemporaries, tended to approach their idiographic task through the subdiscipline of connoisseurship.

Connoisseurship: Forerunners.
Connoisseurship is closely linked with the theories of Giovanni Morelli in the latter part of the nineteenth century--and rightly so. Yet the method did not spring forth without any preparation, for the the method's roots stem from the Baroque period. In his Considerazioni sulla pittura (ca. 1620) the Roman amateur Giulio Mancini held that sophisticated appreciators of painting must address three types of knowledge: quality, authorship or authenticity, and originality.i Although Mancini's treatise was for a long time available only in manuscript, the ideas trickled out to leading Italian and French writers. Of these the most influential was Roger de Piles (1635-1709), who attached an essay on the matter to his Abrégé de la vie des peintres (1699).ii
It was from these sources, and from the philosophy of John Locke, that Jonathan Richardson Senior (1665-1745), a portrait painter and collector, formed the methodology of his ambitious Two Discourses (1719). As Carol Gibson-Wood observes "Richardson sought to promote connoisseurship as a branch of knowledge, a 'science' in the eighteenth-century sense of the word. As such it could be mastered by anyone capable of thinking clearly and reasoning correctly, but demanded a rational, empirical method of procedure."iii In contrast to Morelli's later method, which focused on tell-tale individual traits, Richardson believed that one should judge quality and authorship by a careful consideration of the effect conveyed by the work as a whole. He based his own observations on his huge private collection of drawings, which he would compare with paintings wherever possible. Because of his belief that connoisseurship was a rational procedure, accessible to anyone who would take the trouble, his views went against the elitist sense--one deeply cherished by the art-loving aristocracy--that this sensibility was a special gift accorded only to a few individuals. For this reason the Richardson approach met little success in his day, only to recur in a different form in the late-nineteenth-century notion of a "science of art" (Kunstwissenschaft).
Although the idea is implicit in his work, Richardson did not use the word "connoisseurship" itself--as distinct from "connoisseur," which he frequently employed. The abstract noun connoisseurship did not come into common use in English until the middle of the eighteenth century, the sense being conveyed previously by the French import connoissance. The implication is that the observer attains an awareness of variations among works of art over a period of time. The imported term relied on a French (and German) distinction between two verbs for knowledge: connaître and savoir (or kennen and wissen).  The distinction is not so easily expressed in English, though it can be understood. Connaître suggests intuitive capacities (which some observers today locate on the right side of the brain), while savoir implies "hard knowledge" (on the left side of the brain).
Connoisseurship ultimately stems from the collecting trend.iv  The working artist is usually too busy, or too partial in his or her judgments to pore over the works of others, trying to identify their particular excel­lences.  But the leisured collector may do so.  Some of the writers on art previously discussed, including Malvasia and Rumohr, were amateurs of this type.  This kind of appreci­ation paralleled that of the enthusiast for literature, who excelled in spotting particular effects in the Greek and Latin classics, though less commonly in modern works.  Sometimes this practice reached an extreme of critical finickiness, as in the fictional Signor Pococurante satirized in Voltaire's Candide (1759), who found fault even with Homer, Vergil, and Milton.  
Some owners of very elaborate collections hired experts to organize their art collections for them; the archetype here is the industrious Filippo Baldinucci (1624-1696), a full-time art expert for the Medici family in Florence.  Moreover, the emergence of the art trade in seventeenth-century Holland encouraged comparis­on of various works in order to appraise them and weed out forgeries.  The dealer also needed to cultivate a sales patter, which sometimes took the form of alerting the the potential purchaser to various particular "beauties" found in the object on sale.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century these several trends converged in a new type of expert, the connoisseur. Such individuals claimed to have raised critical appreciation to a scientific level.  As we have seen, the methods used by these experts were largely inherited ones. Yet the social context was different, for the nineteenth century saw a proliferation of public museums and galleries. Some of these resulted from the opening of former princely collections to anyone willing to pay a small admission fee. Others, like the national galleries in London and Berlin, had to start from scratch. The new museums required worthy objects to exhibit, and this appetite stimulated the art market. As it happened, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic period had disrupted many institutions, especially ecclesiastical ones, which had enjoyed the custody of works by famous artists. In many instances works had been alienated from their original owners during the Revolutionary period and had entered the art market. In other cases, demoralized or impoverished owners were compelled to part with their treasures at prices that the acquirers, generally well-healed northern Europeans, found eminently affordable.
In this ebullient art market, the connoisseur found a role as the guarantor of the attribution of the work: he certified that a work claimed as a Lotto was a Lotto and a Reni was a Reni, and so forth. Since connoisseurs would usually receive a commission for such attestations, so that venal temptations to upgrade works, by claiming that, say, a Timoteo Viti was actually a Raphael were ever present. Of course high-level connoisseurs claimed the status of Caesar's wife: they were incapable of such transgressions. But were they? Even today it is hard to be sure in some cases.
In addition to offering expertise concerning works on the art market (sometimes lodged, interestingly enough, in their own collections), connoisseurs felt the call to evaluate the works newly displayed in the major public collections. In a good many instances they found that the existing attributions were false, or at least overoptimistic, since works by pupils or even outright forgeries passed as originals by great masters. Here too, however, commercial considerations obtruded. Deattributing a "Luini," let us say, might have adverse affects on related works still in private hands. This erosion of status would effect not only "Luinis" but also Luinis, genuine articles nonetheless tainted by association with the suspect work. In this way the task of the connoisseur intersected with commerce. Before purchasing, customers often demanded a written certificate by a recognized authority, whose income depended on a steady flow of such requests. Yet if widespread venality were suspected, consumer confidence would disappear and the whole edifice would come crashing down. From all this one should not assume that inflation of reputations was widespread; it was simply a continuing undercurrent. The proof that, on the whole, the connoisseurs did not accede to this temptation is found in this fact: globally speaking, the canon of works attributed to many great masters shrank, as new methods of evaluation were stringently applied.
The task of connoisseurs in shaping the accepted oeuvre of an individual artist is crucial, for if we inadvertently rely on shop works or forgeries to shape our overall image of an artist's work we blur the image.  Market pressures tend to bloat the (apparent) oeuvre of an artist--sometimes approaching a kind of bulimia, since the falsely attributed works tend eventually to be ousted by knowledgeable opinion. The process of paring down may have an unsettling effect on the public, as in the recent Rembrandt deattributions where such favorites as the Man in the Helmet in Berlin (Staatliche Museen) and The Polish Rider in New York (Frick Collection) were demoted to the status of works of followers of the master.
Some have held that the rules of connoisseurship can be explicitly stated, while others believe that it is more a matter of taste and experience. Max J. Friedländer held that a connoisseur is an art historian who does not talk much.v  The meaning of this saying is that through looking the connoisseur accumulates a great fund of internal experience, which he brings crucially to bear on a particular object.  This does not mean that the judgments made by the connoisseur are purely intuitive, even though in their swiftness they may appear to be so, for he or she can give reasons for the opinion that is offered.

Giovanni Morelli ("Ivan Lermolieff").
There is general agreement that the prince of connoisseurs was Giovanni Morelli (1816-1891), whose activity has been compared to that of a Sherlock Holmes or a Sigmund  He is one of the few art historians to merit an adjective that is established in the English language: Morellian.vii  The words Wölfflinian or Panofskyian occasionally occur, but (as far as I know) no one has ever used "Rieglesque" or "Wickhoffian." 
Morelli was born in Verona of a Protestant family that was probably ultimat­ely French in origin.viii  Barred from local schools because of his religion, Morelli studied at the cantonal school in Aarau, Switzerland, and then entered the University of Munich, dedicating himself to medicine and natural science. This education gave him a perfect command of the German language.  A satire he wrote on the Munich art world of his day reveals his puckish humor. 
Morelli never practiced medicine. In 1839 he proceeded to Paris where he divided his time between science and art, with numerous visits to the Louvre. His scientific pursuits led to a paper on dinosaurs, showing his interest in problems of classification and in distinguishing various degrees of difference in the wake of Georges Cuvier. At some point later in life he became acquainted with the physician Claude Bernard's "experimental method," an ideal he was to defend (without giving proper credit to its originator) in his mature writings. Gradually, Morelli's dedication to science ebbed, but not without leaving a lasting mark on his methods of aesthetic investigation.
During the 1840s he lived mainly at Bergamo, composing pieces for German periodicals and meditating on art. Repercussions from his involvement in the Italian national­ist movement in 1848 caused him to go into temporary exile north of the Alps.  In 1860 Morelli was named a deputy in the Italian parliament; he became a senator in 1873. The intersection of his official duties with his interest in art involved him in the question of regulating export of Italian works abroad; here he was ambivalent, sometimes decrying exports, on other occasions maintaining that the visibility of Italian paintings in other countries would foster esteem for his country and its culture.
Thirty years after his interest in art had first been kindled during his student days in Munich, Morelli published his first art-historical articles. His studies of works in the Borghese Gallery in Rome appeared in the Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst in 1874-76.  In 1880 a book distilling his conclusions regarding Italian paintings in the galleries of Munich, Dresden, and Berlin appeared in Leipzig.ix  A lively controversy ensued, as some German scholars indignantly rejected his new attributions. Both the articles and the book were attributed to "Ivan Lermolieff," ostensibly a Russian savant.  But this pseudonym is only his own name disguised, for Ivan and Giovanni are both "John" while the first seven letters of Lermolieff are an anagram of his own surname, appending the characteristic Russian family suffix (-eff = -ev).x The book also purports to be translated from Russian into German by Johannes Schwarze, or "John Black."  The Black surname is a play on the word Morelli, "little Moor."  In this way Morelli wrapped himself in a double disguise. He first allowed his real name to be used in an 1883 translation of his first book into English, while maintaining the fiction for some time longer in Germany.xi
Why Morelli elected to use this double pseudonym to conceal his identity has never been fully explained.  Since his comments on attribution were controversial, he may have wished to insulate his political career from his art historical enterprise.  While he took his aesthetic inquiries in dead earnest, he must have recognized that some of his associates in government would think them dilettantish.  His revelations that some works were misattr­ibuted were bound to offend and outrage those with a vested interest in maintaining the old labels. This clash of opinions could lead to unpleasantness in social encounters, which he could avoid as long as his secret were kept.  His pixieish side took a mischievous delight in the effects of the deception. More seriously, Morelli may have felt some diffidence about his Italian origins, since in his day Italian scholarship had reached a low ebb.  An interesting comparison is with such women writers as George Eliot and Georges Sand, who believed that they would receive more serious attention if they took male names.  In time he came to regard the Lermolieff identity as almost separate from his own, attributing to this individual a sureness of judgment that ranked him above that of every other scholar. In any event, it is a strange irony that one who devoted his scholarly career to inspecting the papers of works traveling under false pretences should have chosen to hide his own identity.
Perhaps one can go further: was the investigator himself a stable personality? In the public mind, at least, Morelli succeeded in dividing himself into two selves, Morelli and Lermolieff, only attempting to unite them at the end of his life. It is a striking fact that the 1880s saw the introduction, stemming mainly from the French psychologist Pierre Janet (1859-1947), of the concept of multiple personalities, which had been largely ignored up to that point.
Morelli's actual practices of attribution are clear enough. In some instances, as in his vindication of the attribution of the Dresden Venus to Giorgione, he used a combination of documentary and stylistic evidence, a method closely akin to that of Rumohr (whom he admired) before him. Yet Morelli's real innovation lay in a different procedure, which he outlined in the essay on principles and method at the head of his second book of 1890.xii What he became famous--and notorious--for was his claim that the touchstones of authenticity are not such major features as composition or coloring.  These can be cleverly simulated by a pupil or later forger.  Instead the imitator will slip up in the handling of peripheral details, such as the ears or the fingers.  In focusing on these tell-tale signs Morelli seemed to turn connoisseurship into a kind of detective story, an elaborate chess game that the connoisseur plays at long distance with cunning adversaries, the forger and the misattribu­ter.  His method caused Morelli to be charged with not being interested in paintings as a whole, a complaint he rebutted by arguing that it was precisely to establish the overall identity of a particular painting that he was conducting his exercises.  After all, once we catch a criminal through the analysis of fingerprints we do not incarcerate only the fingers! 
Morelli held that getting the attributions straight was but a prelude to the writing of a new, more accurate history of Italian art. Although he never got around to composing this work, a few scattered remarks permit one to hazard some conjecture of what it might look like. Morelli held that each of the schools of Italian art developed organically, responding like a plant to its environment. Each branch of art follows a natural cycle from birth to maturity to decay. The regional styles are strongly impressed by the character of the people, so much so that influences from outside are of little account. In order to clarify this regional character he appealed to the analogy of local dialects, wherein Italy was particularly rich. Morelli intended his feats of attribution as a first stage in a larger program. Once correctly attributed through careful study in situ, paintings could be grouped according to their creator in monographs. These building blocks would then serve as the basis for the a truly satisfactory history, but neither the master connoisseur nor his followers realized this ambition.
Morelli's concern with unmasking, with revealing impostors, recalls the inquiries of Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud.  In fact Freud possessed one of Morelli's books, and remarked on the similarity of the Italian's search for revealing little clues and the attention the psychoanalyst must pay to brief but telling remarks. In their different ways a number of innovative writers of the late nineteenth century insisted that what we conventionally perceive is often not the real person.  We must strike off the mask and see the person as he or she is.  And indeed Morelli's method did alter forever our perception of some of the great masters of Italian art by excluding the impostor-paintings that had inveigled themselves into the oeuvre.   
In 1761 the novelist Lawrence Sterne wrote playfully of the "Correggiescity" of Correggio. At first sight this notion that each artist has an essence so individual that it forms a category all of itself seems extreme. Yet it goes to the heart of Morelli's project. He believed that each body of work, each oeuvre of an individual artist was sharply demarcated in its inner essence from any other. In effect the oeuvre possesses a stable personality, indissolubly linked to the personality of the artist him- or herself. Correggio must ever be true to his own Correggiescity. Today, this confidence seems excessive, for cannot even the greatest master have an "off day" in which he or she commits the indiscretion of creating a work that is not true to the artist's ultimate standards? The German painter Max Liebermann used to say that art historians have the function of saving artists from the consequences of their mistakes, by ruling that inferior works are not actually by the person credited with them.
Literary scholars have created techniques of metrical analysis and word frequency that help to settle disputed authorship of texts. Through such methods it can be confirmed that St. Paul (or whoever wrote the chief books in the Pauline corpus of the New Testament) is not the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews since the Greek word patterns are so different from those in the other writings attributed to Paul. An interesting exercise would be to apply such methods to the corpus of writings ostensibly written by Lermolieff and compare the results with the corpus originally published by Morelli. If the writings of Lermolieff (or more precisely, Lermolieff-Schwarze, since some contribution must be allowed to the "translator") should show a different pattern from that of the Morelli group, would this indicate a bifurcation of personality, or just a very clever single author? On the other hand, if the two groups of writings indicated the same authorship, would this help to confirm Morelli's contention that in the end genuine authorship cannot be concealed?
Some modern critics would question whether the assumption of unity is a necessary or even always a desirable quality in a significant work of art. Thus the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin emphasized the "polyphonic" complexity of Dostoevsky and other authors, seeking to show how their vitality stems from the incorporation and combination of textures that are strikingly different.xiii In this light perhaps Morelli's creation of an alter ego signified an unconscious wish to subvert his own unitary concept of creativity--an irony that would have been relished by Sigmund Freud if not the conscious Morelli himself.

The Morellian Legacy.
Morelli wrote during a period that saw the ascendancy of positivism, the belief that a sober, scientific approach could solve all problems, without the intrusion of metaphysics. Accordingly, many who embraced Morelli's methods did so under the impression that they were scientific. Today they seem less so. Despite his claims to have founded a reliable "experimental method," we can recognize in Morelli the traditional figure of the art lover, a type that was being shunted aside even during his lifetime by the new professional art historian. Still, the application of Morellian standards of connoisseurship did help to weed out many weak and inadequate works that, falsely labeled, had been corrupting the oeuvre of many masters.
A similar housecleaning was undertaken for Greek art by Adolf Furtwängler, who separated the reliable ancient copies of sculptures from those that were poor or misidentified.xiv Before his death in 1907, Furtwängler turned his attention to vase painting, but with less spectacular results. The most sustained application of Morellian method to Greek art was accomplished by the British archaeologist Sir John Beazley (1885-1970), who rounded out the oeuvre of hundreds of vase painters, inventing "names of necessity" such as the Berlin Painter and "Elbows Out" for personalities whose real names had not survived.xv Recently Beazley's work has come under attack, in part for transferring methods derived from Italian Renaissance painting to a humbler field, but the critics have been rebutted.xvi
The most visible pruning and reattributing occurred in the great public collections of paintings in Europe. So thorough was the housecleaning of European painting collections by the connoisseurs that after World War II European scholars visiting American public collections, where this task had been neglected in order to avoid ruffling the sensibilities of recent donors, expressed shock that so many inferior works could be passing under the names of the great masters.
On would expect that the process of sifting would also be evident in an increasing stability of the rosters of accepted works found in catalogues raisonnés. Indeed, this stabilization seems to have taken place, as one can see by looking at the concordance tables of recent catalogues of the works of such artists as Poussin and Vermeer. However, this convergence of opinion may not constitute a final vindication of the connoisseurship techniques stemming from Morelli. For the work of many old masters, such as those just named, is accompanied by reliable records of provenance, so that the connoisseur's conclusions are supported by external evidence. In the case of Rembrandt there have been several attempts to pare away dross. The most recent, still ongoing, has been undertaken by a commission--the Rembrandt Research Project--sustained by the Dutch government.xvii One instance, though an extravagant and atypical one, does give pause--the corpus of drawings attributed to Michelangelo. In 1911-12 Karl Frey recognized 244 autograph drawings, a figure that Bernard Berenson boosted to 288. In 1908-13 Henry Thode accepted 494 as authentic. Charles de Tolnay, who devoted much of his life to Michelangelo, ended by placing his imprimatur on no less than 630 (1975-80). Frederick Hartt, in 1971, accepted 465, while Michael Hirst attained a high point of 785 (1988), in part by counting each side of separate sheets as an individual item. It was left for Alexander Perrig to call a drastic halt to this reckless expansionism, with a truly meager canon of only 24 drawings!xviii
After the wave of positivism had passed, later connoisseurs gave a greater role to intuition. Speaking for many, Max J. Friedländer said that immediately on first seeing a work of an artist within his orbit he knew whether it was authentic or not. Of course, reasons could be given, but they came later. This immediacy may support Carlo Ginzburg's claim that the act of connoisseurship stems ultimately from the tracking skills of primitive hunters, who must judge both surely and swiftly.
Friedländer's claim also suggests that more investigation is needed on the elusive concept of "eye." The role of quick judgment through visual inspection is recognized in such different fields as military tactics and billiards. And the contemporary critic Clement Greenberg has repeatedly emphasized the role of the eye in selecting important contemporary artists from the mass that are not destined to enjoy lasting fame.
When Morelli began his work, photographs of paintings were not widely available.  Engravings of famous works had achieved wide circulation, but these clearly involved an interpretation, that of the printmaker, imposed between the original and the scholar. Morelli's work required intense study of the originals ("autopsy"), and this emphasis was taken over by his disciple Bernard Berenson, who would sometimes stand as long as an hour before a single painting trying to fix in his memory each brush stroke and color tone.  Later, after Berenson had estab­lished himself in his villa of I Tatti near Florence, he accumul­ated a large collection of black-and-white photographs which he used to refresh his memory.  Today's widespread use of photo­graphs as a substitute for viewing the originals must be regarded as a step backwards.  (A possibly apocryphal story about Adolph Goldschmidt, the great student of medieval ivory carvings, alleges that he once declined to inspect an original brought to him by a collector, saying "Send me a photo.")  For many decades after their first intro­duction photographs were only in black and white (and even today the color ones are generally unreliable, and some of the most seductive are farther from the originals than others judged by publishers to be "less exciting": les belles sont infidèles).  In any event, this reliance on monochrome images constituted an ironic victory for the Floren­tine concept of disegno or compo­sition as against the Venetian emphasis on color.  Even now a compre­hensive history of color in painting is lacking.
Today, in addition to photography, the critical perceptions of the con­noisseur can be extended and confirmed by scientific tests--x-rays, radio­carbon, fluoroluminiscence and other types of measurement.  Connoisseurship is still needed in the museum, gallery, and auction house.  The main value of scientific tests is to show a lack of concordan­ce in date, as in Van Meegeren's twentieth-century forgeries of Vermeer's seventeenth-century masterworks.  However if a modern forger attempts a fake Picasso or Chagall using contemporary materials and techniques, it may be that connoisseurship of the traditional type is the only resource capable of exposing the impos­ture.  And--despite the Michelangelo conundrum noted above--students derive great insight from working with original drawings and striving to reach their own conclusions about authorship.

Bernard Berenson.
Once overrated, Bernard Berenson (1865-1959) is probably now too little esteemed.xix  While he never taught at a university and failed to measure up to the professional canons that had emerged in Germany and the United States, among the general public Berenson long enjoyed the status of "Mr. Art History." As Edmund Wilson instructed the educated in literature while Walter Lippmann performed the same service in public affairs, so Berenson offered guidance in the realm of the old masters. For cultivated amateurs, especially those making their pilgrimage to the hallowed sites of Italy, perusing his books was de rigueur. In more recent years, however, he has been attacked as a pure formalist, an antidemocratic elitist, a commercialist whose evaluations were swayed by the art market, and as an unreconstructed Eurocentrist.
Born to a Jewish family in Lithuania and raised in poverty in Boston, he assimilated easily to his adopted country and class, absorbing the high seriousness cherished by the Brahmins of the Massachusetts metropolis. More specific influences included the pragmatism of William James, the orientalism of Ernest Fenollosa, and the aestheticism (imported from England) of Walter Pater.
A child prodigy, Bernard Berenson early captured the admiration of influential Bostonians. Eventually he was taken up by the very wealthy Isabella Stewart Gardner, whose private collection was to become the impressive Gardner Museum.  This maecenas supported her protégé during several years of study and travel in Europe.  There he composed (in a somewhat cloying style) four short books on the Italian schools of painting that enjoyed a great vogue in America and England.  Subsequently, Berenson himself referred to them, not entirely humorously, as the "four gos­pels."xx 
The general picture these narratives present is one of regional schools which rise, reach their peak, and decline. Berenson had little use for mannerist and baroque art, which he relegated to the category of decline. His method is a systematization of that of Morelli. He recognized three kinds of materials for historical study: contemporary documents, tradition, and the works of art themselves.xxi In the end, it is the examination of the works themselves by the trained connoisseur that is decisive. In the discrimination of authorship he recognized the familiar Morellian features of the ears and the hands, to which he added the folds and the landscape. Less reliable traits were the hair, the eyes, the nose, and the mouth. Finally, the cranium, the chin, the structure and movement of the human figure, the architecture, the color, and the chiaroscuro were--however enjoyable for themselves--of no value in determining authorship.
A hundred years later, after many advances of scholarship, it is not easy to grasp the once-riveting qualities of these four books. In their concise texts Berenson not only passed in review the major painters of the various parts of Italy, but he offered principles of art appreciation intended to have universal application. In the pivotal volume on the Florentine Painters of the Italian Renaissance (1896) Berenson held that medieval art is merely semiotic: once we have deciphered the symbols, there is no further gain. With Giotto, however, something of great significance is added. Art works of this new stamp are capable of "giving tactile values to retinal impressions." The meaning of this sense of tactile values is not entirely clear, but the American scholar seems to have grounded it in the idea of Einfühlung or empathy championed by the German psychological writer Theodor Lipps.  According to Berenson's theory, we derive a sense of solace and well being, what he termed "life-enhancement," through our identification with the figures and scenes we see depicted.  In all likelihood Berenson took the notion of life-enhancement from the philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Henri Bergson, then approaching their peak of popularity.
Contemporary French art, with its tendencies to formalism, was not absent from his thoughts. The young Berenson particularly admired the art of Edgar Degas. But there were limits. Although the author of The Florentine Painters of the Renaissance allowed for the effect of pure line, he consistently tied the expression of tactile values, and the "ideated sensations" to which these gave rise, to representations of the human body. For this reason he vehemently rejected abstract art.
Despite the assurance with which they were proffered, his theories echo late-nineteenth-century Continental trends, displaying not only the methods of Morelli but also contact with the German psychological and perceptual tradition that undergirded the work of Heinrich Wölfflin. These German ideas came to him in part through reading and in part through personal contact with the artists Adolf Hildebrand and Hermann Obrist.
Berenson was physically slight and frail, a classic neurasthenic of the late nineteenth century. A concept of art that offered a therapeutic compensation ("life-enhancement") for his own physical deficiencies held a strong personal appeal.   In this he was not alone. Such thera­peutic virtues would appeal to two groups who responded to his wri­tings: the leisured traveler­s--some of them hypochondriacs ostensibly voyaging on doctor's orders--who filled European resorts and art cities, and the captains of industry, who sought soothing distractions after a day of stress on the stock market or in the board room.  As has frequently been noted, Berenson's interests fit all too well into the aspirations of the elite of the beau monde, much of it consisting of the newly wealthy who needed a cachet of culture that only expensive, old objects could provide. 
Even­tually he established a durable partnership with the English dealer Joseph Duveen, and the two were able to obtain high prices for many Italian Renaissance paintings in America.  In time Berenson became a slave to his own lavish lifestyle conducted at his villa in Settignano.xxii   Taken up with a life of hobnobbing with the rich and famous, he more and more subordinated scholarship to the money-making side of connois­seurship.  Since his death it has been charged that Berenson altered or "massaged" his attrib­utions to increase the value of the paintings by making their origins seem more exalted than they were.xxiii  These claims of venality seem exaggerated, but it should be remem­bered that at a time when many old master paintings were up for sale, commercial temptatio­ns could lead to distortions of attribution.  (Today, with most old masters off the market, such temptations arise more commonly in connection with the works of modern artists.) In the context of his time, Berenson's attribution policies were not excessive, and were probably more scrupulous than most of his fellow experts.
Because Berenson had adjusted so well to his era, it is not surprising that his stock fell precipitously--probably too far--after his death.  As a theorist he is probably best regarded as a transitional figure, whose influence was destined to fade with the internationalizati­on of German scholarship.
Berenson seems to have anticipated and dreaded this fate.  Carefully monitoring trends emanating from across the Alps, he bitterly resisted the rehabilitation of late-antique art undertaken by the Viennese art historians Riegl and Wickhoff. He planned a major refutation of it, his monograph on Decline and Recovery in the Figural Arts; only fragments of this projected magnum opus were completed. Although in his youth he owed much to German studies of the psychology of perception, as he grew older he became increasingly hostile to the German tradition, going so far as to deplore the 1930s Transatlantic Migration of German scholars to the United States as a corrupting influence.
Moreover, after some early interest in the works of Degas, Cézanne, and Matisse, Berenson developed an aversion to modern art.xxiv  Holding his own emphasis on formal qualities in large part responsible (he claimed too much), he deplored the formalism that undergirded writings favoring modern works. But the rot went much deeper. The whole of modern society had gone astray, he held, becoming decadent. Advanced modern art, especially abstract art, was an appalling symptom of the decay. In this way Berenson abandoned his earlier emphasis on aesthetic qualities in favor of a censorious moral stance. Moreover, if modern art is a symptom, and not a cause, of decay, how could opposing it in the name of a return to classical values arrest the process of decline?
Even in the study of Renaissance works Berenson's thought focused not so much on historical evolution, but on the attractions of an arcadian dreamland of the past--in his case located in Italy during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  Like his fellow cultural critics José Ortega y Gasset and T. S. Eliot, he came to practice a kind of "negative classicism," extolling the virtues of the past as a contrast with the tawdry present. His interest in the art of the early middle ages, which he excoriated as life-diminishing, lay solely in using it as a parallel to twentieth-century art. The underlying ethos of decadence, he implied, was the same. Both were antithetical to the spirit of humanism inherent in classical and Renaissance art.
Of the "position papers" Berenson published after World War II in an effort to sum up his thought, Aesthetics and History (1948) is the most substantial. The program he advocates for art history is a highly selective one. Although he recognizes that the arts of the great civilizations of Asia are major achievements, they are not for us; acquiring the linguistic and other erudition required to evaluate such alien products would be too laborious, diverting one's energies away from the works of art themselves. Even the arts of Germany and Spain, he held, lie essentially outside the mainstream, and may be safely neglected except by specialists of those countries. In addition, too much preoccupation with meaning and social context is unwise; it takes us away from building our "House of Life" through concentration on the genuine masterpieces. Berenson concludes his observations with remarks intended to introduce his unfinished monograph on early medieval art: "[w[e shall not lose sight of the fact that we are absorbed in the study of art not in health but in disease, in other words that we are investigating the pathology of art."xxv Aspiring to reverence as a sage, he seems more of a curmudgeon, bitterly disappointed that twentieth-century art was not to his liking, and blasting earlier forms of art insidiously revived to buttress the products of our own purported decline.
Viewed from the end of the century in which Berenson was in some sense an unwilling participant, his faults loom large. Yet can we really begrudge him his love of the Italian Renaissance? In our own day another type of historical partiality may be occurring with the exaltation--in the auction rooms and among the general public--of impressionism and postimpressionism.  It may be that ordinary art lovers need to focus on a single era where they feel at home.  For when all is said and done, the aesthetic neutrality of the confirmed art historian is an austere creed, enjoining an impartial "democracy of epochs."  This impartiality is not to everyone's taste, but if art history is to retain the character of a discipline, and not a mere adjunct to the worlds of commerce and spectacle, it must not cast aside the achievements of the historical point of view which have reduced subjectivity while broadening our horizons.
Today, some lament that the techniques of connoisseurship are in decline. However, Christie's Education offers an MA in the History of Art and the Art Market that includes a seminar on connoisseurship. This comprises "the critical skills needed to look at art, write about art, research and evaluate works, including handling and viewing art objects and visiting artists’ studios, conservation labs and museums."

In some respects Berensonian connoisseurship represents the apotheosis of the formal approach.  Although he had converted to Roman Catholicism, the religious message inherent in most of the paintings he examined held little interest for him, being superseded by "tactile values." 
A different, and more radical version of this formalism appeared in England with the concept of "significant form" of Clive Bell and Roger Fry.  Affiliated with the Bloomsbury group, these scholars had a positive response to modern art, above all the work of Cézanne.  From Cézanne the path led on to abstract art.  In order to account for this trend the British theorists collaps­ed the dichotomy between form and meaning--holding that the form is the meaning.
Although the Bloomsbury outcome was probably foreseeable, it would be wrong to identify connoisseurship and Berenson with the radical formalism of Bell and Fry. Earlier savants still recognized the role of subject matter, even though they may have seemed to relegate it to a subordinate place. But they retained their faith in the humanism inherited from the Renaissance--a loyalty that many twentieth-century artists and their advocates were to cast aside.

i Considerazioni sulla pittura; pubblicate per la prima volta da Dariano Marucchi, con il commento di Luigi Salerno, Rome: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 1956.
ii Thomas Puttfarken, Roger de Piles' Theory of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.
iii Carol Gibson-Wood, "Jonathan Richardson and the Rationalization of Connoisseurship," Art History, 7:1 (1984), 38-56 (cited: p. 40).
iv For discussions of important aspects of collecting (where much research remains to be done), see Joseph Alsop, The Rare Art Traditions: The History of Art Collecting and Its Linked Phenomena, New York: Harper & Row, 1982; Antoine Schnapper, Le Géant, la licorne, la tulipe: Collections françaises au XVIIe siècle, I, Paris: Flammarion, 1988; Krzysztof Pomian, Collectors and Curiosities: Paris and Venice, 1500-1800, trans. by Elizabeth Wiles-Porter, Oxford: 1990. For some years The Burlington Magazine has been including specialist articles on historical collections; see also Journal of the History of Collections (Oxford University Press, 1989- ).
v For this genial writer's credo, see Max J. Friedländer, On Art and Connoisseurship, translated by Tancred Borenius, Boston: Beacon Press, 1960 (first published in 1942 by Bruno Cassirer in Oxford).
vi Carlo Ginzburg, "Clues: Roots of an Evidential Paradigm," in his Clues, Myths and the Historical Method, trans. by John and Anne Tedeschi, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, 96-123.
vii The Oxford English Dictionary provides a citation from 1890--when Morelli was still alive.
viii A critical biography of this savant is still lacking. See, however, Matteo Panzeri and Giulio Orazio Bravi, eds., La Figura e l'opera di Giovanni Morelli: materiali di ricerca, Bergamo: Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai, 1987; Hans Ebert, Donata Levi, and Giacomo Agosti, La Figura e l'opera di Giovanni Morelli: studi e ricerche, Bergamo: Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai, 1987; and Carol Gibson-Wood, Studies in Connoisseurship from Vasari to Morelli, New York: Garland, 1988, pp. 166-237.
ix Die Werke italienischer Meister in den Galerien von München, Dresden und Berlin: Ein kritischer Versuch von Ivan Lermolieff; aus dem Russischen übersetzt von Dr. Johannes Schwarze, Leipzig: E. A. Seemann, 1880.
x The correct form in Russian would have been Lermolov.
xi Italian Masters in German Galleries: A Critical Essay on the Italian Pictures in the Galleries of Munich, Dresden, Berlin, trans. Louise M. Richter, London: George Bell and Street, 1883.
xii "Ivan Lermolieff," Kunstkritische Studien über italienische Malerei: Die Galerien Borghese und Doria Pamfili in Rom, Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1890. The essay also appears in the English version: Giovanni Morelli (Ivan Lermolieff), Italian Painters: Critical Studies of Their Works: The Borghese and Doria-Pamfili in Rome, trans. by Constance Jocelyn Ffoulkes, London: John Murray, 1900 ("Principles and Method," pp. 3-63.
xiii Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990, pp. 231-68.
xiv Adolf Furtwängler, Masterpieces of Greek Sculpture, ed. and trans. by Eugénie Sellers, New York: Scribner, 1895.
xv Apart from his many articles and monographs, see Beazley's great collections: Attic Black-Figured Vase Painters, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956; Attic Red-Figured Vase Painters, 2nd ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1942. The latter work contains more than 15,000 items.
xvi For the attacks and rebuttal of them, see Martin Robertson, The Art of Vase Painting in Classical Athens, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 3-6. For Beazley's place in the earlier history of vase-painting research, see R. M. Cook, Greek Painted Pottery, Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1960, pp. 288-330.
xvii The volumes of Josua Bruyn et al., A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, began to appear in 1982 (The Hague: Stichtung Foundation Rembrandt Research Project). Despite the impressive credentials of the participants, other qualified experts have expressed disagreement regarding the status of particular works. This lack of consensus suggests that an irreducible element of subjectivity remains in connoisseurship.
xviii Alexander Perrig, Michelangelo's Drawings: The Science of Attribution, translated by Michael Joyce, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.
xix Ernest Samuels, Bernard Berenson: The Making of a Connoisseur, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979; idem, Bernard Berenson: The Making of a Legend, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987. These two volumes constitute one of the best biographies of an art historian that has yet appeared.
xx Originally published in 1894-1907, they were later collected into a single volume, The Italian Painters of the Renaissance, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930. In the first publication, each volume was completed by a list of works accepted by Berenson as authentic. In the 1930s these rosters were separated, revised and enlarged, and gathered together in a separate volume, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932. This book classifies and locates some 15,000 works, a stupendous undertaking that no single scholar would dare to attempt today.
xxi Bernhard [sic] Berenson, "Rudiments of Connoisseurship (A Fragment)," The Study and Criticism of Italian Art: Second Series, London: George Bell, 1902, pp. 111-48.
xxii See the astringent comments of Meyer Schapiro, "Mr. Berenson's Values," Encounter, 16 (January 1961), 57-65.
xxiii Colin Simpson, Artful Partners: Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen, New York: Macmillan, 1987.
xxiv On Berenson and modernity, see the perceptive analysis of Mary Ann Calo, Bernard Berenson and the Twentieth Century, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994 (which perhaps overstates the contribution of his ideas to modern art criticism).
xxv Aesthetics and History (1948; written 1941), repr. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1954, p. 267.

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