Master of

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Term used in art history to label the author of anonymous works or groups of works for convenience in discussing them. This use of invented names is more common in the study of painting and printmaking than of sculpture, and historians of architecture hardly ever resort to it. It began in Germany in the early 19th century with the description of Early Netherlandish painting. Initially the choice of names was often more lyrical than descriptive, as with the ‘Master of the Pearl of Brabant’, named after a small, gem-like altarpiece (Alte Pin., Munich), now usually attributed to Dieric Bouts. Nowadays invented names tend to be more prosaic and more directly appropriate. Often the anonymous master is named after a particular picture and/or the collection to which it belongs, e.g. ‘Master of the Louvre Annunciation’. Alternatively, the name can refer to some aspect of the artist's style, as in the ‘Master of the Anaemic Figures’ (a 15th-century Spanish painter), who shows that the designation ‘master’ is used neutrally and is not a term of approbation. The practice of creating artistic personalities in this way has been overdone, but is often useful.

Subjects: Art.

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