Authenticity and connoisseurship

Stylistic analysis

 DING Yunpeng 丁雲鵬 (1547-1628)
Luohans (detail)
Handscroll, ink on paper
35.8 x 998 cm
Private collection

In a widely accepted formulation, Meyer Schapiro defined style as 'the constant form – and sometimes the constant elements, qualities and expression – in the art of an individual or a group.' To this is added the important assumption that 'works in the style of one time could not have been produced in another,' so that style can be used as a means to date and differentiate.

Style is seen in two ways: in respect to particular physical features and in respect to overall qualities of family resemblance. Stylistic analysis addresses both aspects, with attention to detail reinforcing arguments depending on generalisation.

Methodical attention to detail was a key step in the development of art history as a modern discipline in Europe. This is most closely identified with Giovanni Morelli (1816 – 1891) an Italian art critic who developed a technique for identifying the characteristic 'hand' of a painter through scrutiny of minor details. These were thought to expose an artist's particular and unreflective shorthand for portraying secondary elements, for example, trees in the background of a portrait. Such attention to regularity in detail yielded especially great value when applied to sets of objects where documentary material was lacking - such as Greek sculpture and pottery – and this allowed for a vast expansion of art historical studies.

A Morellian approach to the image here would focus on details of the figures such as hands or ears, or the particular rendering of patterned elements such as the water and breaking waves. These features would be compared to similar ones in 'reliable' works by the same painter.

Connoisseurship of Chinese painting has a strong tradition of stylistic analysis, partly on account of uncertainty about records of ownership and provenance. Many experts rely on generalisation from visual memory, seeking an approximate 'match' with works they feel confidence in.

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