Emergency name

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Emergency names are makeshift names that are mainly used in the history of art in antiquity and the Middle Ages. Artists or artisans from this era have usually not yet signed their works with names or initials. By assigning a notation name, a sculptor , copper engraver , painter , vase painter or other “master” can be assigned a catalog of works that can be identified through style comparison and an attempt can be made to give the artist, who is otherwise only seen as anonymous, an individual personality and his own masterful craftsmanship to acknowledge.

Most of the artists designated with an emergency name come from antiquity and the Middle Ages, in some cases from the 16th century, because the tradition of written material (at least in Central Europe) is much more dense from this point in time and the actual names of later artists and craftsmen then become can usually be determined from these sources. Exceptions are folk art or non-European works of art.


Emergency names designate the artist or artisan as a master and continue with an epithet , a name affix that individualizes and characterizes this artist.

The addition usually names it after a typical main work, the presumed location of its activity, origin or after a conspicuous recurring design detail of its work. Examples are the master of playing cards or the master of the life of Mary in Cologne , the master of Großgmain , the master of Cappenberg , the Naumburg master or the Elmelunde master as well as master of carnations or master of the bordered garland . There are also emergency names that designate an artist after the client, a former owner or the current location of one of his works, such as the Bedford Master , Master of the Morrison Triptych or Master of the Berlin Passion . Sometimes the verifiable year of creation of a work was also used to design a name such as Meister von 1446 .

If at least the initials of an artist whose name is not known can be found on his work , he is usually referred to as a monogrammist , for example monogrammist AT .

In the area of ​​ancient Greek vase painting , in which only a comparatively few works are signed, most of the emergency names go back to the formative expert on this subject, Sir John D. Beazley . Beazley named vase painters after important pieces (so-called name vases ) or their place of storage (e.g. painter of the Yale Lekythos , Berlin painter ), but also after characteristic subjects ( e.g. Achilles painter ). In places he also used ironic names, for example with the Worst Painter (German worst painter ) or the YZ group for the painters of the latest, qualitatively sloping Attic bowls (after the last letters of the alphabet; at the same time a play on words: YZ = English way-zed = Why that ? , German 'Why that?'). A particularly common form of the note name in Attic vase painting emerges from signatures that do not name the vase painter, but the potter or owner of the workshop. For example, the painter of the vessels signed by the potter Cleophrades is known as the Cleophrades painter .

Completely abstract designations are rarer, for example the folklorist Kurt Müller-Veltin named the masters or workshops of the basalt crosses widespread in the Eifel who cannot be identified by name with arbitrarily selected letters (workshop A, workshop B, etc.) that have no reference to places or specific works to have.

Master as a term in art history

The art-historical language has been using the term master to form a note name since around the middle of the 18th century . This term was used very ambivalently. In some cases he became a synonym for the painter, picture carver or engraver of a single, often important work, as with the Master of Tahull , in others there is a clearly qualitative assessment of this person and their work as soon as further works are grouped around a major work.

An emergency name can therefore represent an evaluative hierarchy that produces subordinate terms such as workshop , student , area or successor . An anonymous image of the Italian Baroque can be attributed to a Neapolitan school , the master of the Acquavella still life , the environment or the successor of Caravaggio , in each of which an evaluation of his quality and the skill of his painter can be seen.

Even if an emergency name seems to emphasize the artist as masterly, an identification of the master as a workshop manager or style influencing or innovative personality is not proven beyond doubt. On the contrary, cases are known in which workshop managers were no longer manufacturers, but only managing directors or guarantors of the quality of production, with the work being entirely in the hands of the employees. The qualitative rating is often difficult to justify, but not entirely without reason, and must continue to be discussed. In this regard, the emergency names must be checked on a case-by-case basis.

Attention should also be drawn to the differences in the concept of the master described in the understanding of the various European art-historical research traditions. Different spellings for one and the same emergency name (national and international) sometimes result in grammatically different statements for evaluating the artist. So z. B. the Bedford Master , Master of the Duke of Bedford, or Master of Bedford . The first emergency name refers (correctly) to the named work (Bedford Book of Hours) or the place of storage. Second emergency name speaks more of a patron or patron, the Duke of Bedford. Third emergency name leads (wrongly) to the assumption that the artist was based in Bedford (but presumably he worked in Paris).

Emergency names as an instrument of art history

Use of an emergency name

Emergency names are an unavoidable instrument, but also an obstacle and ballast of the art-historical working method. They serve as a tool to research the person of an artist. However, not all emergency names are unique, truly characterizing, or generally recognized. As a Master of Saint Clare different painters could be considered not only because of the translated from Italian name, and in 1473 both a Westphalian painted masterpiece of 1473 and in Bruges, a champion of 1473 images that are of importance to art history. It is also sometimes controversial which major work should give a master his name. However, the use of an emergency name such as Master of the Karlsruhe Passion, in contrast to the mere designation as a painter from the Upper Rhine region, is a recognized aid for structuring research projects and interpretation.

Subsequent identification

Sometimes after the assignment and acceptance of the emergency name, the master can then be assigned a verifiable personal name by studying documents such as guild roles of a city or also works contracts of a church or a monastery in which the work and a name are named. Sometimes contemporary artist biographies can also be found, such as the life descriptions of painters recorded by Vasari , which provide clues for identifying a master, for example when the apprentices of a workshop are listed. The antique vase painter, first known as the Copenhagen painter, is identified , for example, with the potter Pistoxenos , who is known by name . The medieval sculptor from Münster, known as the Master of the Entry of Christ , was identified as Heinrich Brabender , and a late Gothic stone and wood sculptor from Münster, who had long been known as the master of the St. John's Altar in Osnabrück, was finally identified in 1987 as Evert van Roden . However, the reverse can also occur, in which the name of a supposed artist whom one believes to know, for example through an inscription on a work of art, actually denotes another person, e.g. B. the founder of the piece in question. If it is not possible to find the actual name, the introduction of an emergency name is a good idea.

Methodological problems

Emergency names were often created at different times and in different places, which, as far as we know today, designate one and the same person. This is the case, for example, with the Master of the Joseph legend and the Master of Afflighem , who today are mostly summarized as the Master of 1518 . For the latter, sources were subsequently found that make an identification with the Antwerp painter Jan van Dornicke seem plausible. It can be seen that the old emergency names would consequently be obsolete today. An example from the field of vase painting is the painter Aison , known by name , who has already been equated with the Meidias painter on a trial basis . In order to ensure a link between newer research and older literature, it is not always possible to completely neglect it or to change its content.

Apart from the problem of updates, there are also fundamental methodological questions with regard to the sustainability of such assignments: On the one hand, the choice of a work as the starting point for the definition of an artist, around which other works are then grouped, tends to be arbitrary: If one came to other assignments, if one took other “masterpieces” as a starting point? On the other hand, the definition of an artist only leads through works that are only assigned through this definition, not beyond themselves and thus into a tautology .

Further development through art historical research

It is also likely that existing emergency names will have to be “split up” in the future. It will very likely turn out that works z. B. with the participation of different painters can not operate permanently under an old emergency name. This view is strongly influenced by the recognition of the qualitative component (see above). Assuming that unprocessed works are found, it could be that a painter who was previously regarded as a journeyman will be given the status of a cooperating master in the qualitative judgment . It would then be justified to assign it a new emergency name if it can be described in an individual style. The usefulness of new emergency names can, however, be viewed as very questionable.

List of emergency names and monogramists

A list of emergency names and monogrammists from the European Middle Ages and Renaissance can be found in the

The emergency names of North American painters of the modern age are also listed under Limner .

Artists of antiquity who are not known by name can be found in the

Further use of the term

Foundling children used to be given an emergency name if the parents could not be identified, for example "from God". The emergency name was given by the local police in the district where the child was found.

Web links

Wiktionary: emergency name  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Kurt Müller-Veltin: Middle Rhine stone crosses from basalt lava, Neuss 1980, pp. 191–199.
  2. Ursula Knigge : Aison the Meidiasmaler? In: Communications from the German Archaeological Institute. Athenian Department Vol. 90, 1975, pp. 123-162.
  3. ^ Richard T. Neer: Beazley and the Language of Connoisseurship. In: Hephaestus. Vol. 15, 1997, pp. 7-30.
  4. Cf. John of God , who, however, was not a foundling.
  5. ^ Meyer's Large Conversational Lexicon . 6th edition. Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1909 ( zeno.org [accessed on November 27, 2019] encyclopedia entry “Name law”).