DATE: May 14, 1999

NAME: Anonymous Artist Relationships in the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format

SOURCE: Art Libraries Society of North America, Cataloging Advisory Committee

SUMMARY: Works which cannot with certainty be attributed to a known artist are common in the art world, and art historians express gradations of certainty about the relationship between a work and a known artist or group of artists by coupling a known artist's name with a qualifier. Librarians and visual resources professionals who use the MARC 21 format to catalog art works or surrogates of art works need to be able to record this information in an appropriate place on the MARC bibliographic record. This paper discusses several different options for handling anonymous artist relationships: use subfield $c (qualifier), use field 720 (Uncontrolled Name), or define a new subfield.

KEYWORDS: Field X00 (BD, AD); Personal Names (BD, AD); Anonymous Artist Relationships (BD); Field 720 (BD); Uncontrolled Name (BD)



5/14/99 - Forwarded to the MARC Advisory Committee for discussion at the June 1999 MARBI meetings.

6/27/99 - Results of MARC Advisory Committee discussion: There was much discussion about the particular needs of the art community in being able to associate a qualifier with a known artists' name. Some institutions have authority control over strings denoting an unknown artist and its relationship to a known artist. Others only establish authority records if a reference is needed, while others don't establish them at all. Potential use of such qualifiers should be considered in not only the art community but also the archival and music communities.

DISCUSSION PAPER NO. 112: Anonymous artist relationships


Works of unknown, uncertain, fictitious, or pseudonymous authorship occur in the book world, and AACR2 makes provision for dealing with them. The general rule is to use whichever form appears on the title-page; if the author chooses to adopt a pseudonym or generic name (e.g. "A.N. Other" or "Physician"), the cataloger will adopt that formulation. If the name of the author is unknown, the cataloger will not attempt to supply one.

Art works lack title pages, and signed works are the exception rather than the rule. Art historians assign authorship on the basis of stylistic analysis, traditional ascriptions, inventories, and other evidence. Because attributions are so often subjective, and depend on a chain of reasoning or on sources of varying degrees of reliability, the scholarly literature has evolved an elaborate, nuanced terminology for referring to the creators of works of art.

Data dictionaries for the description of art objects regularly include a field expressing the degree of certainty of an attribution. The Categories for the Description of Works of Art includes "Creation--Creator--Qualifier," defined as "an expression of the certainty with which a work can be attributed to a known artist or group, including any possible relationship of an unknown artist to a known artist or group in whose style the work has been created (e.g., attributed to, follower of, in the manner of.)" (Categories for the Description of Works of Art: Definitions," Visual Resources XI, 3-4 (1996), p. 401).

The Drawings Documentation Project Procedure Manual developed by the Art Institute of Chicago defines an "Artist Qualification Field," which is used "to characterize the relationship of the drawing to the known artist (artist, artist?, attributed to, assistant of, pupil of, studio or workshop of, studio or workshop of?, circle of, follower of, school of, style of, after, after?, imitator of)." (Suzanne Folds McCullagh, "Nuances of Art Information," Visual Resources XI, 3-4 (1996), p. 275).

The degree of certainty ranges from metaphysical certitude to nescience. At one end of the continuum, the artist's name is known, and cited with varying degrees of confidence ("signed," "attributed to", "traditional," "questionable," etc.). At the other end, the artist is unknown and unidentifiable except as belonging to a given school or period ("Rhenish School," "Barbizon School"). Schools in the regional or stylistic sense do not fall within the scope of this proposal, which deals only with attributions attached to personal names.

Somewhere in the middle are the artists, who, while remaining unknown, can be individualized on the basis of features of their style, and assigned a name which consists of a descriptive phrase: "Achilles Painter," "Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece," "Entrelac Binder." Names of this type are analogous to the characterizing phrases ("An Oxford M.A.") which sometimes appear on the title-page of printed books and which are treated as names.

But there is no counterpart in book cataloging for headings which combine a known artist's name with a qualifer which expresses the relationship of a work to the known artist:

          School of Andrea Mantegna
          Circle of Jacquemart de Hesdin
          Follower of Hokusai
          Copyist of Rodin

The Categories for the Description of Works of Art notes: "Qualifying expressions found in scholarly literature vary, and convey nuances of how closely the unknown artist worked with the identified artist during the execution of the work. For example, office of Christopher Wren or workshop of Gislebertus would indicate authorship by an unknown individual working directly for the named master, probably under his supervision. Other expressions, such as school of Rembrandt or follower of Hokusai, would refer to someone in direct contact with the works of the named artist, though not actually working in his shop. A qualifier such as style of Raphael or copyist of Rodin indicates an influence of (or an outright copy of) the style of the named master, but carries the connotation that the named artist had little or nothing to do with the actual work at hand." (http://www.getty.edu/gri/standard/cdwa/).

As librarians catalog more art objects and surrogates of art objects (slides, photographs, digitized images), they are increasingly encountering this type of shadowy authorship. Book cataloging offers precedents for dealing with some, but not all, attribution issues.

Questionable attributions to a known artist can be handled by the use of the relator term, "$eattributed name," which is defined in the MARC Code List for Relators, etc. as "Use to relate an author, artist, etc. to a work for which there is or once was substantial authority for designating that person as author, creator, etc. of the work." (p. 5). Although this relator is normally used with added entries (implying that the attribution is not strong enough to warrant treating the person as the main entry), it could presumably be used as a 100, provided that the cataloger feels that the balance of probability justifies making it the main entry. In a note, the cataloger may go on to discuss the gradation of certainty, supplying sources for the attribution (traditional, inventories, the work of other art historians) and providing an evaluation ("probable," "possible," "disputed," etc.)

But attributions expressed according to the "School of X" formula remain problematic. There is currently no MARC subfield which is an appropriate carrier for this type of information.


Because of the fact that anonymous artist relationships are very common in describing works of art, the issue is of considerable importance to the art and museum community. Various metadata standards (Categories of the Description of Works of Art, Visual Resources Association Core Categories, and AMICO) have data elements that may be used to express such relationships and to clearly indicate attribution in metadata schemes.

A number of institutions are trying to fit data about visual resources or art works into a MARC- based system. Several options are possible using current content designation, although they may not be adequate to clearly describe the relationship of the name to the work. Although AACR2 does not authorize the construction of the types of headings discussed in this paper, it is important to remember that in the visual resources community AACR2 is not often used as a descriptive standard. Thus, it is not just a cataloging rules issue. In addition, the solution should not require the creation of an authority record, since many institutions will not be creating them and will not be formulating headings using AACR2.

The following details various options available for specifying anonymous artist relationships in MARC bibliographic records. The first two involve using existing fields/subfields; the third proposes the definition of a new subfield.

2.1. Option 1. Use the $c (qualifier) subfield for the information, with or without parentheses:

     100 (0 )  Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn,$d1606-1669$c(School of)
     100 (0 )  Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn,$d1606-1669,$cSchool of
     100 (1 )  Katsushika, Hokusai,$d1760-1849$c(Follower of)
     100 (1 )  Weyden, Rogier van der,$d1399 or 1400-1464$c(Workshop of)

This solution has the advantage of keeping the headings of the related artists close to the known artist, while distinguishing clearly between the two. The use of the $c subfield for this information is comparable to the use of $c for the qualifier (Spirit), as in these examples taken from the Library of Congress Name Authority File:

     100 (0 )  Francis,$cof Assisi, Saint,$d1182-1226$c(Spirit)
     100 (0 )  Nostradamus,$d1503-1566$c(Spirit)
     100 (1 )  Walker, Karen,$d1949-1970$c(Spirit) 

The (Spirit) qualifier is used to distinguish between a heading for the person in life and a heading for the person's purported after-death communications; it could be argued that the relationship between the known and the unknown artist is in some ways analagous. The $c is repeatable, so there would be no problem with other qualifiers which might appear in the known artist's name:

     100 (1 )  Reynolds, Joshua,$cSir,$d1723-1792$c(Pupil of)
     100 (0 )  E. S.,$cMeister,$d15th cent.$c(Follower of) 

Against this solution, it can be argued that "Spirit" is used to distinguish between different manifestations of the same person, while "Follower of Rembrandt" is a different person from Rembrandt. The use of "Spirit" reflects a claim made in the work itself, while "Follower of" is a judgment made by an external critic. The use of the $c subfield also means that separate authority records must be created for every category of relationship; this runs counter to an intuitive feeling that the bibliographic record, rather than the authority record, should carry this data.

2.2. Option 2. Use field 720 (Uncontrolled Name).

Field 720 (Uncontrolled Name) is defined to contain an added entry in which the name is not controlled by an authority file or list. It is also used for names that have not been formulated according to cataloging rules. The field could be used to contain the name of the known artist (in an authoritative form or not) with a statement of attribution. Using this field would not require the cataloger to create an authority record, but the information could still be accessible from the name of the artist. A disadvantage of this approach is that 720 is an added entry, rather than main entry field, so the notion of "creator " might be lost. Thus, the definition of a 120 field for Uncontrolled Name Main Entry might be considered. The other disadvantage may be the lack of subfielding for the attribution statement. (Note that this option was not one considered by the ARLIS committee.) In addition, systems may or may not have indexed the data in field 720 with data from the other controlled heading fields.

720 1#$aRembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1606-1669, School of

2.3. Option 3. Define a new subfield for this type of information

This subfield would be recorded in the bibliographic record only, and would not require the creation of an authority record.

The Cataloging Advisory Committee of ARLIS/NA has concluded that none of the existing MARC fields is appropriate. The Committee favors defining a new subfield, Attribution qualifier, for terms such as "School of," "Workshop of," etc. Subfield $j is used in the following example.

100 (0 ) $aRembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn,$d1606-1669,$jSchool of

This solution has the advantage of keeping the headings for the related artists close to the known artist, while distinguishing clearly between the two. The new subfield could be treated for indexing purposes as a filing field, so that the headings file after the heading for the known artist. The new subfield would be defined as valid only for the bibliographic record, much like the $e relator term field. This would forestall the creation of a plethora of new authority records for names that are only meaningful on the bibliographic record.

NOTE: The Cataloging Advisory Committee of ARLIS/NA is willing to supply a list of suggested terms for use in whichever subfield is deemed approriate for anonymous artist relationships if it is desired to have a controlled list. The list would draw upon the terms most often used in the literature, and would offer a degree of standardization.


1. Are there comparable instances of anonymous authorship in other disciplines?

2. Are there problems with the information about attribution residing only on the bibliographic record or must an authority record be created?

3. Could either 1XX subfield $c or field 720 be used to carry this information, or is a new subfield required?

4. If Option 1 were selected, would it be a problem for existing systems using heading validation to use subfield $c, since at times it is considered part of the heading and an authority record created for the entire string, while at other times it is might be used for the anonymous artist relationship and not require an authority record?

5. Are there implications in using the subfield (options 1 or 3) with subject headings in 6XX fields? What would it mean in this context? Would we establish a subject heading for the heading with "school of"?

6. Do we need a controlled list for the data describing the anonymous artist relationship?

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