Morellian analysis is named for Giovanni Morelli (1816-1891). Morelli, who trained as a physician, approached art authentication as a doctor would. As a doctor, he examined physical symptoms. Aggregated, medical symptoms form a diagnosis. As an art historian, Morelli examined and categorized the details of an artist’s technique. He analyzing how an artist formed eyes, ears, noses, and mouths. Aggregated, comparable features form a recognizable style. This definition is an oversimplification of Morelli’s methods, but the specific examples below serve as an introduction to the usefulness of his techniques.
The critics of his time called his method the “ear and toenail” school. The criticism might be valid if used as the sole source for authentication. But used along with provenance, art historical research, and scientific examination, Morellian analysis is an invaluable tool.
An example of Morellian analysis can be found in the comparison of a new portrait by George Caleb Bingham, Robert Patterson Clark, with Bingham portraits from the same time period. The artists technique improved but the manner in which he formed basic features remained consistent. Truth is in the details.
Note the similarities in the brushstrokes of the eyebrows, the simple construction of the eyelid, and the single black line that gives the impression of eyelashes.
The Clark portrait is more primitively sculptural than the two portraits painted just a year or two later. Each sitter had a differently-shaped mouth. Yet, the shadowing and highlights around each mouth are similar, as is the brush stoke that painted the lower lip. Bingham did not fully cover the bottom right corner of the lip.
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