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Starting of Art Connoisseurship in Eighteenth Century Europe

Starting of Art Connoisseurship in Eighteenth Century Europe

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the curiosities collected and displayed in the Kunst-und Wunderkammer. Wunderkammer was a German word similar to English 'A place of wonders'. Wunderkammer was the primary stages of modern art gallery, but were not scientifically classified. The objects in the Wunderkammer were displayed arbitrarily. For example, a crocodile and a starfish along with the mammals and birds were placed altogether. It was to show their marvel, not according to their classification. By that time there was no classification. In the eighteenth century, the collectors and viewers learnt how to look objects methodologically.

Beginning of Art Connoisseurship

During the eighteenth century, art connoisseurship was developing in a shape. The raise of the 'collectors' and the booming art market was a reason for developing early connoisseurship. More and more people were interested in understanding and buying art. This was a time necessity to understand art, have a good knowledge on it, and understand the value of art. The following paragraphs will explain the early development of connoisseurship.

Figure 1. WATTEAU, Jean-Antoine, L'Enseigne de Gersaint, 1720
Oil on canvas, 163 x 306 cm
Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin

The painting of Watteau’s L’Enseigne de Gersaint (Figure 1) is a perfect example of describing the early connoisseurship. It is still important today to understand the relationship between the art dealers and the collectors as well as the visual display of paintings. Watteau had painted the image for the shop sign of the prominent art dealer Garsaint. Watteau and Garsaint had a good friendship as well. This is an example of how eighteenth century connoisseurship looked like. On the right of the painting, two groups of people are watching two different artworks. The kneeling man with a magnifying glass is inspecting the painting. The leaning woman is inspecting the art with some sort of eyeglass. They are observing closely and forgot about other people in the room. To their right, another group of male and female are examining a picture with a female attendant. The man is sitting with the hand on his cheek; the woman is leaning behind, and observing pensively. Their physical appearance and pensiveness testify they know what they are looking to. It also suggests this shop is not only a selling point, but also a classroom to learn about art.

Another good example of how art connoisseurship was presented in the eighteenth century was the frontispiece to Edme-Francois Gersaint by Charles-Nicolas Cochin, 1744. In this frontispiece, a group of people are examining works on papers. One of them is looking pensively with an eyeglass and another with an eyepiece. There are other two groups of people who are examining closely the hanged artwork on the ceiling. The right side of the standing group, one is explaining something to the other. Both of them understands its artistic value. The whole group is examining the artworks are example of the starting of early eighteenth century art connoisseurship.

Both of the paintings, Watteau’s L’Enseigne de Gersaint (Figure 1) and frontispiece to Edme-Francois Gersaint by Charles-Nicolas Cochin (Figure 2), illustrates the four points of connoisseurship. The first point is the educated eye. Watteau’s L’Enseigne de Gersaint (Figure 1), the kneeling man and the leaning woman are looking closely using eye tools. Number two, in the same painting, at the right of the painting, the sitting woman and the man with his

Figure 2. Tthe frontispiece to Edme-Francois Gersaint
Charles-Nicolas Cochin, 1744.

hand  in his cheek, looking pensively. Both of them know how to look closely. Three, in any connoisseurship expertise discussion with each other is mandatory, which is found in frontispiece to Edme-Francois Gersaint by Charles-Nicolas Cochin. In the right hand of the painting two people is pointing to the hanged art and possibly talking. The last point, connoisseurship took in a specific place. Both of the paintings depicted an specific indoor space. Thus, both of the paintings passed the methods of a connoisseurship in eighteenth century.


1. Daniela Bleichmar. "Learning to Look: Visual Expertise across Art and Science in Eighteenth-Century France," Eighteenth-Century Studies 46:1 (2012): 96.

2. Jonckheere, Koenraad. The Auction of King William’s Paintings 1713 (Oculi: Amsterdam, 2005.), 29.

3. Koenraad. The Auction of King William’s Paintings 1713. 29.

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Viewer’s Comments 1

Mustafa Ahmed Khan 10Mar 2021

Nice Post