CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Fritz Koreny

Connoisseurship by Fritz Koreny
Senior Researcher, Institut für Kunstgeschichte der Universität Wien
Presentationsupplement to the presentation (due to its large filesize, the full presentation is available upon request via

In the fine arts the term connoisseur refers to a person whose knowledge is based more on intensive in-depth studies of original works than on academic scholarship. Trained through critical comparative observation, he or she stands apart for a spontaneous perception of quality. They trust the experience of their eye and judge intuitively, from the “gut feeling” or instinct that is the sum total of their experience. Based on their knowledge of the artistic style and specific characteristics of the painting and the presentation of an artistic personality that they have accumulated down the years, their expertise, which does not rely on scientific justification, provides reliable information on attribution or rejection, on authenticity or copy. The concept of connoisseurship described above was established in the nineteenth century. Its roots, though, reach much further back to the beginning of the Renaissance and are closely linked with the creative artist himself. Both as collectors and custodians of artworks, artists themselves can be seen in the front row of experts. (It is only in recent decades that this long-lasting tradition was abandoned in favor of professional managers, who are not always competent).

But the situation was beginning to change as early as the late nineteenth century, with the introduction of art history as an academic discipline. The connoisseur – hitherto the sole authority – encountered competition from the university-educated art historian. The almost inevitable rivalry between both continues to this day.

The expert has to adapt to the new situation. He or she has to take account of current knowledge. At the same time the unremitting growth of scientific research and deepening interest in artworks imposed limitations on the connoisseur, demanding specialization in a special field or subject. It was no longer enough merely to study the originals. New technical developments for the evaluation of art contributed to the exuberant flood of publications, and X-radiography, dendrochronology and IRR developed into essential tools. They created new conditions that could not be ignored by the experts. But still – even under the constantly changing circumstances – connoisseurship fundamentally depends on secure quality judgment and critical comparison, with a keen eye trained by long experience.

Erudition and outstanding academic knowledge are certainly advantageous for research, but Max J. Friedländer had already pointed out the dilemma between the university scholar and the connoisseur when he emphasized that one should not underestimate knowledge. For, who knows the most, sees the most! On the other hand – he warns against the opposite – namely of overestimating knowledge. Because, for the one who does not see, it does not help.

The examples I will give in this lecture of Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer and especially Jheronimus Bosch, as a supplement to the exhibition in Den Bosch, may illustrate the considerations outlined above.

About Fritz Koreny
Fritz Koreny (1940) studied art history at the University of Vienna, graduating in 1968. He worked at the Institute for the Preservation of National Monuments from 1969 to 1971, when he was appointed Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, a post he held until 2000. From 1990 until 2013 he taught art history at the University of Vienna. He curated several exhibitions on early German and Netherlandish late fifteenth-century drawings, and has published on early printmaking and the drawings of Albrecht Dürer and Hieronymus Bosch.