Professor: OK. As art historians, one of our fundamental tasks is to assign authorship to works of art, right?
We’re presented with a work of art, and we have to figure out who made it.
But this task becomes particularly difficult when we’re dealing with works produced in Italy during the Renaissance, the 16th, 17th centuries.
Now, why is this the case? Anyone? Emily.
Student: Um...is it ‘cause artists didn’t sign their work?
I mean, didn’t the whole concept of the artist as an individual develop later? In like the 19th century?
Professor: Well, you are sort of on the right track.
The concept of the individual artist, especially the concept of the artist as an artistic genius struggling alone with a vision as opposed to...say...a mere artisan...well, the idea of the artist as a lone genius didn’t develop until later.
But artists, individual artists, did sign their work during the Renaissance.
In fact, you could say that’s part of the problem, paintings were signed by the artist and that used to be understood to be a mark of Renaissance’s individualism.
If a piece had Raphael’s signature on it, we assume it was done by the great artist himself, Raphael, in the singular.