Introduction to Object ID
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categories of information
Type Title
Materials Subject
Measurements Date
Inscriptions Maker
Distinguishing Description


Do you know who made the object? This may be the name of a known individual (e.g., Thomas Tompion), a company (e.g., Tiffany & Co.), or cultural group (e.g., Hopi).
Knowing the name of the Maker can help to narrow a database search to objects made by that person, company, etc. Moreover, associating an object with a named individual can greatly enhance its historic significance and in some instances its value. However, the retrievability of this information depends on the use of the same form of spelling by the person who documented the object and the person searching for it. For example, the name of the painter Gerrit van Honthorst would be searched for by a Dutch person using this "preferred" form of his name, while an Italian would most likely search using Gherardo delle Notti.

One way of ensuring consistency is to use only "preferred" versions of names (see discussion of preferred terms in Type of Object). Some organizations achieve this by using a published reference work such as Bénézit’s Dictionnaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs as their authority. A more flexible approach uses the on-line, structured vocabulary tool Union List of Artist Names (ULAN). ULAN ( is a database of biographical and bibliographical information on artists and architects, including variant names, pseudonyms, and language variants. It can be used as an authority file (see Type of Object) and as a searching tool that enhances retrieval of multiple versions of names.

Some objects have more than one maker, e.g., a clock made by Thomas Tompion and Edward Banger. Sometimes the different roles played by individuals in the creation of an object are also known, e.g., artist: Charles le Brun; engraver: Michel Corneille, Francesco di Giorgio Martin’; reworked by Baldassare Peruzzi. In the case of mass-produced objects it may be possible to give only the name of the factory (e.g., Wedgwood). In other cases, the names of designers may be known and their work so distinctive that they are more useful for purposes of identifying an object than the name of the company that actually made the object (e.g., designer: Clarice Cliff; manufacturer: A.J. Wilkinson Ltd.). The maker may also be recorded as the tribe or people to whom an anonymous maker belonged, e.g., Vuvi tribe, Gabon (see also Place of Origin/Discovery).

In the art trade, attributions of responsibility are of considerable importance: they enable one to say that an object was created by a particular individual, thereby greatly enhancing its value. Where attribution is certain, the maker’s name can be stated without accompanying qualifications. However, if the attribution is not certain, it needs qualification. Degrees of certainty are expressed using terms such as attributed to (when the attribution is relatively certain), school or atelier of (when the object was made by someone working within the circle of the named person), follower of (when the object was made by someone working close to, but not within the circle of the named person), or after or style of (when the object’s maker comes later and had no direct contact with the named person). In addition, the name may have been given posthumously to an anonymous individual with a recognizable style and to whom objects have been attributed, e.g., the Painter of Athens.

Many auction catalogues now explain the company’s attribution policy by means of glossaries which qualify the relationship between the object and the named person in the catalogue. The following conventions for attribution are used by Sotheby’s:

Giovanni Bellini: In our opinion a work by the artist. When the artist’s forename(s) is not known, a series of asterisks, followed by the surname of the artist, whether preceded by an initial or not, indicates that in our opinion the work is by the artist named.

attributed to Giovanni Bellini: In our opinion probably a work by the artist but less certainty as to authorship is expressed than in the preceding category.

studio of Giovanni Bellini: In our opinion a work by an unknown hand in the studio of the artist which may or may not have been executed under the artist’s direction.

circle of Giovanni Bellini: In our opinion a work by an as yet unidentified but distinct hand, closely associated with the named artist but not necessarily his pupil.

style ofÉÉ.; follower of Giovanni Bellini: In our opinion a work by a painter working in the artist’s style, contemporary or nearly contemporary, but not necessarily his pupil.

manner of Giovanni Bellini: In our opinion a work in the style of the artist and of a later date.

after Giovanni Bellini: In our opinion a copy of a known work of the artist.

The term signed and/or dated and/or inscribed means that in our opinion the signature and/or date and/or inscription are from the hand of the artist.

The term bears a signature and/or date and/or inscription means that in our opinion the signature and/or date and/or inscription have been added by another hand

"With signature. . ."/ "With date. . ."/ "with inscription. . ." In our opinion the signature/date/inscription is by a hand other than that of the artist.

In the case of known artists, their life dates provide added value, e.g., Jean Laurent Mosnier (1743-1808). If their locus of activity is known, this may also be recorded, e.g., Philips Wouwerman (1619-Haarlem-1668). Where the artist had more than one principal locus of activity, this may be indicated, e.g., Francesco-Giuseppe Casanova, London 1727-1802 Vienna; Bartholomeus Maton, Leiden circa 1643-46--after 1684 Stockholm. (See also Place of Origin/Discovery)

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