What is an Old Master Painting? – artmarketblog.com

What is an Old Master Painting? – artmarketblog.com

michael-sweertsIf you have ever wondered exactly what determines whether a painting is considered to be an old master painting or not then you are not alone. The market generally defines any painting of quality created prior to 1830 as being an Old Master painting which, considering the number of paintings created during this period, makes the market’s definition applicable to a large number of paintings. Add in the drawings and prints created by the same artists and the number of works that come under the old master category becomes even larger.

The British National Gallery says that Old Master is a term widely applied to painters and their works which come from the period between the 13th and 18th centuries which is a pretty vague definition. In general, the criteria that dictate whether an artist can be called an old master or not are very broad with the date the artists worked being the primary factor that determines whether a work of art falls into this category. Many works of art may come under the category of Old Masters just because of the period during which they were created even if the artist is unknown. Technically, however, a work of art should only be referred to as having been created by an old master if the artist was a fully trained artist who undertook an apprenticeship under a master artist and was then judged as worthy of being called a master artist themselves. The training and regulation of the master artists was overseen first by artist guilds which were then gradually replaced beginning in the late 16th century by the academies of art that still exist to this day.

Now for a bit of art history. The painters guilds, which dated back to the middle ages ,were named the Guilds of Saint Luke after the Evangelist Luke who was the patron saint of artists. The Guilds of Saint Luke were basically localised trade organisations similar to the present day trade unions which provided their members with a regulated market that favoured their work over non-members and an extremely influential advocacy body that made for their rights and privileges. Guilds were also educational institutions that allowed the member artists to open a workship and take on apprentices. To become a full member of one of the guilds an artist had to prove that they were a master of their craft and worthy of being termed as such. Because the guilds often had ties to the local government, the guilds were able to monopolise and control the market for art to the point that being a member of a guild was a requirement if an artist wished to be commercially successful. According to essentialvermeer.com “Guild restrictions were intended to ease the excess of competition by limiting the sales of works of art by painters who were not registered in the Guild of Saint Luke of that municipality in which the artist wished to sell his works.”

In the late 16th Century the guilds came under fire because of the way they operated which combined with the chance in people’s perception of the role of the artist resulted in the rise of the academy and the slow decline of the guild. The academies were far more liberal than the guilds and catered to the newly accepted concept of the creation of art as an academic pursuit as opposed to a mere trade. It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that the academy became the dominant force in the education of artists.

To be continued………..

See part 1 here:



Jan Steen

The Drawing Lesson
c. 1665
J. Paul Getty Museum,
Los Angeles

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.

4 Responses

  1. […] Charles Dada on ‘Tea Stain’ by Gav…Erika Morrison Bunda on michael-sweertschris guillochon on How to Spot a Fake Picasso -…mediarosa » Bl… on Social […]

  2. Thans,I was wondering about this subject, now its ok. with me.
    Thans again

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