Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Kira van Lil
This thesis will explore the connection between the practice of comparative anatomy as developed by George Cuvier in the decades before the professionalization of art history and the attribution method of Giovanni Morelli. In 1815, Cuvier published his, “theory of the correlation of the parts.” Assumptions about the correlation of body parts to tendencies of the mind at the root of the practice of comparative anatomy (“form following function”), laid the bedrock for Morelli’s education. Morelli’s legacy as a medically trained, contentious, and influential attribution expert has inspired creative speculation as well as oversimplification and misunderstanding. His self-proclaimed “experimental method,” proved foundational to the professionalization and development of art history as a rigorous discipline, one in sync with natural science rather than “bookish” musing. Morelli’s scientific tendencies—his desire to observe works in person, to categorize them into charts, to map an “organic genealogy” of regional schools—have been well documented. This influential methodology is steeped in a social history of ideas, an ideology that deserves a critical historiography because of its implications for disentangling the roots of a discipline with racial thinking. In this paper, I offer speculations on how late nineteenth and early twentieth century examinations of race and methodologies of attribution might not merely be compared, but contextually interwoven in ways that elucidate both. My emphasis lies in understanding the relationship between the medical/scientific discourse of comparative anatomy implicit in Morelli’s art history and the dominant scientific discourse around race during this period.
Sisun, Sara, "Giovanni Morelli: Comparative Anatomy, the "Science" of Attribution, and Racialism" (2018). Art History Theses & Dissertations. 42.