Friday, 16 January 2015

Collecting histories and objects

Readers of LM will know that I dislike the word "provenance". I have discussed the use of the term in an article in the Journal of Art Crime that can be found here.

Chris Chippindale and I suggested that we use the terms "archaeology" and "collecting history". Thus the find-spot is discussed under "archaeology", e.g. this core-formed glass alabastron was found in grave 172 of the Fikellura cemetery at Kameiros, Rhodes; or, this bronze oinochoe has no known find-spot. And collecting history charts the movement of the object from collector to auction house to museum, e.g. the Baron Icklesford collection; London market; the Hortenshaw Art Museum. (For an example of how to describe objects using this method see here.)

Yet I note that some persist in tying themselves in knots trying to explain what they mean by "provenance" or even "unprovenanced". For example, a discussion of a Late Roman treasure could have said, "we do not know where this found" (that is the "archaeology") but we know it passed through the hands of the following individuals and companies (that is the "collecting history").

So we could end up with the garbled statement: 'This "unprovenanced" Roman penknife has a "provenance" in a Soho private collection'. So let me rephrase this for clarity: "This Roman penknife has no recorded archaeological context but it formed part of a Soho private collection".

Academic readers please note: there really is no need to use the term "provenance". Find an alternative term for your publications.

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John Muccigrosso said...

How about the anglicized "provenience" for archaeological findspot? That is more commonly in use, I think, among American archaeologists of the anropologicsl persuasion already.

David Gill said...

Why use "provenience" when you mean "collecting history"?

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