anonymous artist relationships

DATE: December 1, 1997

NAME: Anonymous Artist Relationships

SOURCE: Art Libraries Society of North America, Cataloging Advisory Committee

SUMMARY: Works which cannot with certainty be attributed to a known artist are common in the field of art history. Instead of assigning all these works to "Anonymous," art historians have developed a number of ways to designate unknown artists, and to express gradations of certainty about the relationship between a work and a known artist or group of artists. Some of the techniques used by art historians to create headings for unnamed persons are familiar to book cataloguers, and can easily be fitted into the USMARC and AACR2 framework; some cannot. Librarians and visual resources professionals who are using the MARC format to catalogue art works or surrogates of art works need to come up with methods for creating headings for anonymous artists. This discussion paper describes several different options for handling anonymous artist relationships in the hopes that a consensus will emerge.


Works of unknown, uncertain, fictitious, or pseudonymous authorship occur in the book world, and AACR2 makes provision for dealing with them. The general rule is to use whichever form appears on the title-page; if the author chooses to adopt a pseudonym or generic name (e.g. "A.N. Other" or "Physician"), the cataloguer will adopt that formulation.. For the most part, anonymity is volitional on the part of the author, and the cataloger is not required to delve into his or her real identity.

Art works lack title pages, and signed works are the exception rather than the rule. The cataloguer of an art work assigns authorship on the basis of stylistic analysis, traditional ascriptions, inventories, and other clues. Because attributions are so often subjective, and depend on a chain of reasoning or on sources of varying degrees of reliability, the scholarly literature has evolved an elaborate, nuanced terminology for referring to the creators of works of art.

Proposed data dictionaries for the description of art objects regularly include a field expressing the degree of certainty of an attribution. The Categories for the Description of Works of Art includes "Creation--Creator--Qualifier," defined as

"an expression of the certainty with which a work can be attributed to a known artist or group, including any possible relationship of an unknown artist to a known artist or group in whose style the work has been created (e.g., attributed to, follower of, in the manner of.)" (Categories for the Description of Works of Art: Definitions," Visual Resources XI, 3-4 (1996), p. 401).

The Drawings Documentation Project Procedure Manual developed by the Art Institute of Chicago defines an "Artist Qualification Field," which is used

"to characterize the relationship of the drawing to the known artist (artist, artist?, attributed to, assistant of, pupil of, studio or workshop of, studio or workshop of?, circle of, follower of, school of, style of, after, after?, imitator of)." (Suzanne Folds McCullagh, "Nuances of Art Information," Visual Resources XI, 3-4 (1996), p. 275).

The degree of certainty ranges from metaphysical certainty to nescience. At one end of the continuum, the artist's name is known, and cited with varying degrees of confidence ("signed," "attributed to", "traditional," "questionable," etc.). At the other end, the artist is unknown and unidentifiable except as belonging to a given school or period ("Rhenish School," "Barbizon School"). Data dictionaries distingush headings of the latter sort from "School of [Known Artist]" headings. The Drawings Documentation Project Procedure Manual warns: "The school/place of execution field should be used to describe the drawing, NOT the artist ... School, an adjectival designation (except when impossible, for example: Antwerp, Nuremberg) refers to the geo-cultural area (country, region, city, town, or province) which at some particular time or stage of development was distinguished by a characteristic style and to which the work belongs."(Art Institute of Chicago, Department of Prints and Drawings, Documentation Project Procedure Manual, revised May 1990, p. 35). The Categories for the Description of Works of Art states: "the concept of "school" in its stylistic sense should be noted in STYLES/PERIODS/GROUP/MOVEMENTS; school in its regional sense should be recorded in CREATION - PLACE." (http://www.gii.getty.edu/cdwa/CREATION.HTM#Creation-Creator).

Somewhere in the middle are the artists, who, while remaining unknown, can be individualized on the basis of features of their style. These fall into two categories:

1. Artists characterized by a descriptive phrase which functions as a name

Achilles Painter
Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece
Master of the Morgan Leaf
Entrelac Binder
Meister des Wolfgang-Missale von Rein, 15th cent.

The descriptive phrase may refer to a characteristic of the artist's style (the Entrelac Binder, who worked in Paris in the 1540's, is named after the interlacing technique used in the gold tooling on his bindings) or to the name of a well-known work attributed to the artist ("Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece," the "Achilles Painter" of the Achilles Amphora). Names of this kind are normally devised when several works can be identified as the work of the same artist, and there is a need to come up with a distinctive name for the artist. For example, the Master of the Morgan Leaf (ms. M. 619 in the Pierpont Morgan Library) has been identified as one of the principal artists of the Winchester Bible, and also as the painter of frescoes in the chapter house of the nunnery at Sigena in Spain.

2. Unknown artists whose work can be associated with the name of a known artist whose work is stylistically similar or otherwise related to the piece in hand:

School of Andrea Mantegna
Circle of Jacquemart de Hesdin
Follower of Hokusai
Copyist of Rodin

The Categories for the Description of Works of Art notes: "Qualifying expressions found in scholarly literature vary, and convey nuances of how closely the unknown artist worked with the identified artist during the execution of the work. For example, office of Christopher Wren or workshop of Gislebertus would indicate authorship by an unknown individual working directly or the named master, probably under his supervision. Other expressions, such as school of Rembrandt or follower of Hokusai, would refer to someone in direct contact with the works of the named artist, though not actually working in his shop. A qualifier such as style of Raphael or copyist of Rodin indicates an influence of (or an outright copy of) the style of the named master, but carries the connotation that the named artist had little or nothing to do with the actual work at hand." (http://www.gii.getty.edu/cdwa/CREATION.HTM#Creation-Creator).

As librarians increasingly catalogue art objects or art object surrogates (slides, photographs, digitized images), they will increasingly encounter this type of shadowy authorship. At present, existing rules and formats provide a means of dealing with some types of uncertain attribution, but not others.

Questionable attributions to a known artist can be handled by the use of the relator term, "$eattributed name," which is defined in the USMARC Code List for Relators, etc. as "Use to relate an author, artist, etc. to a work for which there is or once was substantial authority for designating that person as author, creator, etc. of the work."(p. 5). Although this relator is normally used with added entries (implying that the attribution is not strong enough to warrant treating the person as the main entry), it could presumably be used as a 100, provided that the cataloger feels that the balance of probability justifies making it the main entry. In a note, the cataloguer may go on to discuss the gradation of certainty, supplying sources for the attribution (traditional, inventories, the work of other art historians) and providing an evaluation ("probable," "possible," "disputed," etc.)

Library cataloguing is also hospitable to the use of phrase names for anonymous artists. A search of LCNAF reveals many examples of such names, usually established on the basis of literary warrant:

Achilles Painter,$dfl. ca. 450-425 B.C.
Maitre de la Chronique scandaleuse,$dfl. 1493-1510
Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece,$d15th cent.
Meister des Kurpfalzischen Skizzenbuchs,$d17th cent.

The phrase names may be either the authorized form, as with the examples cited above, or a cross reference to a named artist:

100 10 Duvet, Jean,$db. 1485

400 00 Maitre a la licorne,$db. 1485
400 00 Master of the unicorn,$db. 1485

100 00 Piermatteo Lauro de' Manfredi,$cda Amelia,$dfl. 1467-1503
400 00 Pier Matteo Lauro de' Manfredi,$dfl. 1467-1503
400 10 Manfredi, Piermatteo Lauro de',$dfl. 1467-1503
400 00 Master of the Gardner Annunciation,$dfl. 1467-1503

As these two examples indicate, some anonymous artists are eventually identified and named.

There is currently no obvious way to enter a name which identifies an anonymous artist by specifying a relationship to a known artist. Several different solutions are outlined below.


There are several different ways that the relator subfield could be used.

1. Use the name of the known artist, followed by $eattributed name, and explain the relationship in a note:

100 0 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn,$d1606-1669,$eattributed name
500 The work is generally assigned to a pupil of Rembrandt. Cf. XXX.


It is misleading to use "attributed name," since the work has not been attributed to Rembrandt himself, but to someone closely associated with Rembrandt. The work has actually been attributed to a pupil of Rembrandt; this crucial bit of data is too important to be buried in a note which may or may not display on the default view.

2. Use the name of the known artist, followed by $eassociated name" and explain the relationship in a note:

100 0 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn,$d1606-1669,$eassociated name
500 The work is generally assigned to a pupil of Rembrandt. Cf. X.


This relator is prescribed for use as a "general relator for a name associated with or found in an item or collection, or which cannot be determined to be that of a Former owner [fmo] or other designated relator indicative of provenance." The term is very vague, and the role played by the name it qualifies is so plainly peripheral that it would look very odd as a main entry. Once again, the crucial information is buried in a note.

3. Propose a new relator term which would be used only for the type of relationships described in this paper, and explicate the precise nature of the association in a note:

100 0 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn,$d1606-1669,$e???
500 The work is generally assigned to a pupil of Rembrandt. Cf. X.


It is difficult to come up with a term which conveys the idea. "Associated name" is already in use. "Anonymous artist linkage" is unclear. In any case, the exact nature of the link is still relegated to a note.

4. Propose as many new relators as are required for the different types of relationship, and use them:

100 0 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn,$d1606-1669,$efollower of
100 0 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn,$d1606-1669,$workshop of
100 0 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn,$d1606-1669,$eschool of

COMMENTS: The information is unambiguous and easily accessible. Headings of this sort will presumably file immediately after the headings for the known artist, collocating the known artist and the associated anonymous artists. The information is confined to the bibliographic record, rather than intruding on the name authority record.

On the negative side, this is a stretch for the relator subfield. Relator terms normally describe the function or role that one person plays vis-a-vis a given work or object (illustrator, editor, former owner). By using it to denote a "follower of" or a "circle of," we are using it to denote an entirely different person. If the purpose of the field is to differentiate between two different persons, it might be more legitimate to use another subfield, such as the $c, which can be used to distinguish between two persons with similar names (see Option C), or define a new subfield (Option D).

B. Establish a phrase heading for the anonymous artist, and add a note giving the source of the attribution:

100 (0 ) Follower of Rembrandt
100 (0 ) Studio of Titian
100 (0 ) Workshop of Tintoretto
100 (0 ) School of the Corbolinus Master

500 [Giving reason for attribution]


This approach is justified by AACR2 22.11C ("If a phrase by which a person is commonly identified contains the name of another person, enter it in direct order.") AACR2 22.11C instances "Pseudo-Brutus," and adds, "Make references to link the phrase and the heading for the other person if works by the person identified by the phrase have been ascribed to the other person." This is not necessarily the case for anonymous artists; nevertheless, a see also reference to the known artist would be useful.

Headings following this formula would parallel in some respects the "Pseudo-" headings.


100 00 Pseudo-Hegesippus
500 00 Hegesippus,$cSaint,$dd. ca. 180
670 Hegesippi qui dicitur Historiae libri V, 1932
670 Encyclopedia of the early Church, 1992:$b1:371 (Hegesippus, Pseudo-; 4th/5th cent. free translation of Josephus' De bello iudaico handed down under the name of Hegesippus)

Proposed example:

100 00 Follower of Rembrandt
500 00 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn,$d1606-1669

Unlike the anonymous artist qualifiers, the "Pseudo-" prefix negates an attribution. It is used in instances where works were formerly attributed, either explicitly in the text or by the general state of opinion, to a famous writer. Another difference: "Pseudo-" headings are bibliographic identities, unlike "Follower of" headings, which are coined as a result of an independent assessment of the work. Nonetheless, "Pseudo-" headings rely on a similar technique: the creation of an identifier for an unknown person by incorporating the name of a known person. Like anonymous artist headings, they are undifferentiated (and probably undifferentiable) personal names: several different persons may have written the works now cataloged under a "Pseudo-" heading, just as several different artists could be established as "Follower of Rembrandt."

A major drawback of this approach is that it splits the file badly. Researchers are accustomed to finding names linked to known artists filing immediately after the name of the artist with which a relationship is posited:

Rembrandt, Pupil of
Rembrandt, School of

They are unlikely to construct search strings which begin with "Follower of," "Pupil of," etc. If they do, they may not be able to predict all the different relationships. Mandating "See also" references, as with the "Pseudo-" headings, to the named artist would provide some help.

There is also a conceptual difficulty with using the authority record to carry this data. The relationship between the known artist and the anonymous artist is based on the similarities evinced in the piece at hand, and it can be argued that the association between the two artists should be recorded on the bibliographic record for that work, rather than as an independent name authority. Moreover, art historical judgments are extremely fluid and subject to change over time; it would be better to have the information tied to the bibligraphic record rather than to the authority record.

C. Use the $c (qualifier) subfield for the information

100 0 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn,$d1606-1669$c(School of)
100 1 Katsushika, Hokusai,$d1760-1849$c(Follower of)
100 1 Weyden, Rogier van der,$d1399 or 1400-1464$c(Workshop of)


This solution has the advantage of keeping the headings of the related artists close to the known artist, while distinguishing clearly between the two. The use of the $c subfield for this information is comparable to the use of $c for the qualifier (Spirit), as in these examples taken from the Library of Congress Name Authority File:

Francis,$cof Assisi, Saint,$d1182-1226$c(Spirit)
Walker, Karen,$d1949-1970$c(Spirit)

The (Spirit) qualifier is used to distinguish between a heading for the person in life and a heading for the person's purported after-death communications. The $c is repeatable, so there would be no problem with other qualifiers which might appear in the known artist's name:

100 1 Reynolds, Joshua,$cSir,$d1723-1792$c(Pupil of)
100 0 E. S.,$cMeister,$d15th cent.$c(Follower of)

Against this solution, it can be argued that "Spirit" is used to distinguish between different manifestations of the same person, while "Follower of Rembrandt" is a different person from Rembrandt. The use of "Spirit" reflects a claim made in the work itself, while "Follower of" is a judgment made by an external critic. The use of the $c subfield also means that separate authority records must be created for every category of relationship; this runs counter to an intuitive feeling that the bibliographic record, rather than the authority record, should carry this data.

4. Attach the qualifier to the known artist's name, but use a new subfield defined for this type of information, which, like $e, would be valid for the bibliographic record but not the authority record:

100 0 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn,$d1606-1669,$?School of


This solution has the advantage of keeping the headings for the related artists close to the known artist, while distinguishing clearly between the two. The new subfield could be treated for indexing purposes as a filing field, so that the headings file after the heading for the known artist.

Defining the information as relating to the bibliographic record rather than the name heading would answer the reservations about creating a plethora of new authority records for shadowy entities.


1. Does the information we are talking about belong on the bibliographic record or the authority record?

2. Are there comparable instances of anonymous authorship in other disciplines?

3. Could an existing subfield be adapted to carry this information, or is a new subfield required?

Paper prepared by Elizabeth O'Keefe
Pierpont Morgan Library

Comments to Daniel Starr
Museum of Modern Art
Chair, Cataloging Advisory Committee