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musée des Augustins
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Researching the history of art


Nostre Dame de Grasse, detail of
hair, after restoration.

Photo : Daniel Martin



Vierge de Gommecourt, detail of
hair. Yvelines.

Photo : restaurateurs
 
Researchers into the history of antique and medieval art are very often confronted with unsigned works on which they have almost no information. These are known as orphan works.

A stylistic analysis of a work is therefore the first step to identifying it. A study of forms and their evolution reveals distinct stylistic traits belonging to different periods, regions and even art studios or specific artists (eg the shape of an eye, the treatment of hair, the representation of a movement, depth etc). This was the method used by Giovanni Morelli at the end of the 19 th Century. A work can be placed more precisely through a comparison of its style with that of other works that are better documented or of a similar nature.

Knowing the historical context – political, economic and social – is very useful for understanding the circumstances of a commission and interpreting its iconography, particularly when the work has a public function.

Scientific analyses performed by restorers prior to an intervention provide information on the technique, structure and method of creation of a work, which can confirm or invalidate a hypothesis as to its attribution or date.