Last year we had Martin Kemp expressing this view in Nature, one of the world’s leading scientific journals
“The standard art-historical arguments centre around connoisseurship- the validation of the attribution by an expert’s eye. Although connoisseurship still has a role to play, and many experts depend upon it, it involves subjective criteria that should long have been superseded as the key tool of attribution.”
Unsurprisingly, Kemp was writing about the Salvator Mundi. Similar remarks were made by Bendor Grosvenor on Art History News last week, in response to Charles Hope (and others) “subjective” evaluation of the Salvator Mundi.
“This seems to be yet another case of the Salvator Mundi producing entirely subjective responses. Many of those who have declared it to be either by or not by Leonardo have gone on to describe their reasoning in subjective terms. Here it is too 'dull'. Andrew Graham-Dixon said it lacked 'the spark of inner life and feeling'. Readers will know of other similar views. And I'm sorry, but it isn't good enough. Attributions cannot be made or dismissed on a viewer's own human response to a painting. One person's 'dull' picture can be another's 'magical' one.”
I’m not going to comment on the Salvator Mundi, but I’d love to be present at the forthcoming New York colloquium on it and other works. Sure to be some emotion there.
Finally, Three Pipe Problem had an interesting post on the controversial side of connoisseurship, focussing on Giorgione attributions, and ending on a note of incredulity at Bernard Berenson’s expertizing that consisted of turning self-assured opinion into fact, which this writer still sees in today’s attribution culture:
“Even acknowledging the benefits of hindsight, and modern access to better images and technical data, we must still puzzle at the confidence with which observers make their statements, often written as fact.”
Can an expert’s eye be completely free of emotion, subjectivity, any kind of feelings when making an attribution, or even just contemplating a painting? I don’t know about others, but my eye can’t be completely dispassionate when looking at art.
Berenson again, from his diary in 1890: “First I must keenly enjoy a picture, then I can write about it.” “This, I suppose, is not scientific.”
I think all this comes under what could be called the “aesthetics of connoisseurship,” a theme l’ll return to via a review of a book about the Eastlakes, in due course.