Attributions provide art historians with drama. Changes in the accepted authorship of works of art, whether they are supported by scrupulously marshaled evidence, informed intuition, persuasive or half-baked theories, or a combination of all of these, can be met with enthusiastic acceptance, polite skepticism, or rampant hostility within the academic and museum communities. The fiercest debates are usually between curators and art historians, but sometimes, if the artists involved are famous enough, new opinions about who did what (and occasionally when they did it) are greeted with equal interest by both scholarly publications and the mass media.

If recent evidence is to be trusted, questions of attribution can also become the basis of extremely popular museum ex- hibitions, at least, if the reassignment of authorship is a conspicuous upgrade—audiences don’t usually flock to see works that have...

 

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