(a rough to the 10th power draft)

SOME introductory thoughts on "named" versus "unnamed"

There is a great divide in the art world between objects that are named and objects that are not. Roughly (very!) speaking, the great divide comes between fine arts objects versus decorative/cultural objects. In our first go at uniform titles, we largely stuck to fine arts, since they are usually given names which relate to subject content and therefore seem title'ish, and they are cited by these names by people in the field. In our second go at uniform titles, we are going to deal with the objects that don't get subject related names, but generic designations (object type plus identifier).

Most of these objects fall into the decorative/cultural object camp. Okay, there are exceptions; some decorative objects do get names. But when they do, the names usually combine a generic object type with a specific owner or place name that turns them into unique names. So these exceptional objects can be treated under the "named" rule. For this rule interpretation, "unnamed" will be used to refer to objects of the type that normally bear a generic title, composed of the object type qualified by an identifier of some kind.

I think we should state this upfront, so that people won't interpret "named" to mean, "Having had an monicker explicitly bestowed on it by someone." There are gazillions of works of fine art that have not been named in the latter sense of the word. I'm sure the Met has zillions of kouroi in the back room that haven't been given a name of any kind; they are just identified within the Met by a number. But if someone were to write a catalogue or a label for an individual kouros, the object would be given the name "Kouros" (or an English equivalent). Same with paintings of nudes, or Virgin and Childs, or landscapes-they may never have been uncrated, but the moment that somebody does an inventory of them, they will get a name which describes, however crudely, their content: Nude, Virgin and Child, Landscape. The subject content is the basis of the name; the object type (painting/sculpture/whatever) is considered a different piece of information. Sometimes it can be used as a qualifier, if it is necessary to distinguish between two identically named works by the same artist. But the object type is not an integral part of the title for these works.

The unnamed works we are going to deal with in this rule interpretation are treated in a very different way. Decorative and cultural heritage objects (OTHER CATEGORIES?) could be described as "unnamable"-or "traditionally not named." When someone wants to refer to one of them, he or she cites them as:

[object type] [inventory number or catalogue number]

(cf. With the Borg in Star Trek). Even the exceptional objects that do get names get names that follow this pattern, except that instead of a number you may get an owner name or a place name. The point is, the name of the object isn't based on the subject content depicted (I suppose because the pictorial element is subordinate to the use to which it is put, or forms only a small portion of the overall effect).

I think it's important to make this point, because sometimes an article on an unnamed object will also contain some sort of thumbnail description of the object (in, say, a photo caption) which brings out its subject content. This often happens with cylinder seals: the caption to a photograph says, "A leaping stag in a landscape," and the label of the catalogue entry may echo this. But it is customary in the field to refer to seals by inventory or catalogue numbers, not by descriptive phrases; so the cataloger should opt for treating it as an unnamed object and set up the uniform title as Seal (Morgan, M601) [or however we decide to do this]. The decision on which to choose has to be made on the basis of what is the practice in the literature, not just on the item in hand. Funnily enough, I don't think people would make that mistake going the other way; in other words, I doubt that a cataloguer would decide that the uniform title for a drawing should be "Drawing (Morgan, inv.1995.35") just because some writer mentions the inventory number in an article.



Textual works normally include somewhere within the text or on the container a word or phrase descriptive of the content which functions as the title. Works of art normally do not carry a title of this kind; nevertheless, there is a long tradition of bestowing names on certain types of art work. Sometimes the name originates with the work's creator; more often, it has been acquired over time, as the work is inventoried, discussed in the literature, or reproduced. Because the names of many works of art are based on an interpretation of the subject matter and/or upon the name of the object's owner, they may change to reflect new interpretations (a painting formerly thought to depict an X is reinterpreted as depicting a ???), or a transfer of ownership (the ??? becomes the ???). ]. Names are also subject to linguistic variation. As a result, the cataloger seeking to set up a uniform title for a named work of art often finds that the most difficult part is choosing among many different variants of a name conferred on the work by art historians writing in different languages.

Naming is largely confined to works of fine art (paintings, drawings, sculpture, ???):


As these examples suggest, names of fine art objects are normally based on the subject matter, though there are exceptions. By contrast, decorative and cultural objects normally lack names. The common practice is to cite these objects using a generic term for the object type (cup, vase, seal) coupled with an identifier drawn from the inventory number of the owner, from a published catalog (collection catalog, catalog raisonne, or exhibition catalog), or from OTHER POSSIBILITIES?)


"a pyx in the Ashmolean Musum, Oxford (M 237)"
"saucepan... from Chatuzange, now in the British Musuem (H.B. Walters, Catalogue of the Silver Plate in the British Museum, London, 1921, 34, no. 135, pl. XIX)"
"a jar said to be of bronze from Vicarello, Italy, now in the Terme Museum, Rome (inv. 67524; G. Marchi, La Stipe delle Acque Apollonair scopera al cominciare del 1852, Rome, 1852, pl. 1:8) NOTE that the first form of citation in this example is by inventory number, the second is by publication data)"
"Ashmolean 238 " (NOTE: this is a reference to the entry for the seal in Briggs Buchanan's catalogue of seals in the Ashmolean; the seals have inventory numbers, which appear in the Buchanan catalogue, but the writer chooses to cite the catalogue number instead)
"pitcher, 1852-58" (further identified in the catalog entry as "Met.48.25.2")

[MORE EXAMPLES SOLICITED!!! Especially non-Western art (Goldwater and Brooklyn Museum???)]

The identifier is not considered a qualifier or tie-breaker used for conflict resolution (as is the case with named works of art). Rather, it is an integral part of the title; without it, the title is incomplete and/or meaningless.

Construct a uniform title for an unnamed work of art when it is needed for an access point (main entry, added entry, subject entry) on a bibliographic record. Consider a work of art unnamed when it meets the following criteria:

* it belongs to a category of object which is commonly cited by object name and identifying number
* it is not identified in English language reference sources by a distinctive name (e.g. Malmesbury Ciborium, Stavelot Triptych, ???)

Follow the rules in Chapter 21 for the choice of access points.

Use as the uniform title the name of the object category, qualified by an identifier of a type frequently used in the literature dealing with that object.

For the name of the object:

-- prefer the English language term ("Casket," not "Chasse"), unless a non-English language terms is preferred even in English-language sources

-- use the narrowest term within a range of objects (the species, not the genus)
OR: the broadest term within a range of objects (the genus, not the species)

-- do not modify/do modify art objects by place of execution (e.g. Attic vase, Limoges enamel)
do not modify/do modify cultural objects by the name of the culture (Ibo mask?)

For the name of the qualifier:

Use the qualifiers normally used in the literature for citing the object type being cataloged. These may include (but are not limited to) the following:

a. Name of owner and inventory number:

Seal (Morgan, M543)

If the item has had several different owners and inventory numbers, use the most recent.

b. Brief citation of catalogue and catalogue or plate number

Seal (Boehmer 17)

Use the form of citation used in an authoritative reference source in the field (prefer an authoritative English language source over a non-English language source).

c. Other (manufacturer's name, date, size, ???)


If no single method of referring to the object type predominates in the literature, use (in this order of preference):

the inventory number
the number of the entry in a published catalogue raisonne
the number of the entry in a catalogue published by the owning institution
the terminology used in encyclopedias or dictionaries
indexes or bibliographies
other qualifiers


[named Greek vase painter].$tVase (catalogue number?)
Seal (Morgan, M533)
Pitcher (Met. 48.25.2) OR: Porcelain pitcher (Met. 48.25.2) OR: American porcelain pitcher (Met. 48.25.2)
Walnut bowl (V & A 163-1879)

Cross references:

If a decorative object or material culture artifact of a type normally referred to using a repository designation has acquired a name, use the name as a uniform title. Make a cross reference from the repository designation.

Do not make cross references in the opposite direction, e.g. cross references from descriptive titles to uniform titles.


Identifiers drawn from owners' accession or control number:

Be aware that identifying numbers for objects are sometime unique within an institution, but sometime material or department specific, so that all Attic vases have distinctive numbers within the collection of Attic vases, but the numbers may be non-distinctive within the context of the whole vase collection (Etruscan vases may use the same numbering sequence.) This means that the uniform title will have to be: "Attic vase" rather than just plain "vase." Prefer the accession number, unless the object is routinely cited in the literature according to a catalogue number rather than an accession or inventory number (see below)

Identifiers drawn from named catalogues:

Some objects are routinely cited by a catalogue name and number rather than a repository designation. This may happen with objects no longer extant, or objects whose ownership is no longer known. Sometimes an object belongings to an institution is routinely cited by a catalogue number rather than an inventory number (this may happen because the items do not have inventory numbers, or because the catalogue is regarded as the definitive work, and therefore the expectation is that researchers will cite the catalogue number rather than a less well-known inventory number). In cases of this sort, use a citation to the catalog entry rather than to the inventory number.

[This document has been prepared by Liz O'Keefe of the Pierpont Morgan Library and marked up by Sherman Clarke of NYU. It has been prepared as the basis for a discussion at the 30 March 1998 meeting of the Catalogers Discussion Group, Pierpont Morgan Library, 3 p.m. Comments to Liz at lokeefe411@gmail.com or Sherman at sherman.clarke@gmail.com.]

... go to Sherman's art cataloging page ...