Many people will write their name first. From birth, these words have become our signs, appearing at every important moment in life. In the same way, the artist’s signature also plays an important role in connecting him and his work.
Before the Renaissance, few artists left names on their works, because they were more regarded as “craftsmen”, doing technical work rather than creation in workshops.
With the development of the Renaissance, the individual creativity and skills of the artist are valued, and the social status is greatly improved. The relationship between the artist and the work has become closer, and the importance of the “signature” is self-evident.
The Last Supper Durer woodblock print 1523
Knights, Grim Reaper and Devil Dürer etchings 1513
The German painter Durer was one of the first artists who began to use signatures frequently. Because his engravings are loved by many collectors, many engravers profit by imitating his style. Later, Dürer engraved a unique signature on each painting to distinguish it from others’ works.
His signature design is formed by the deformation and combination of the initials “AD”, hidden in every corner of the work in different forms-on the grass, on the bricks, on the steps, and on the books. These signature locations conceal Dürer’s ingenuity and design, as if playing hide and seek with the viewer.
Many artists’ signatures reflect their personalities or life experiences. The butterfly signature of American painter James Whistler is an important element of his works. It is not only a symbol, but also a decorative function. It is said that his mother once called him “butterfly” when he was young, and this gorgeous symbol also conforms to his elegant, romantic, unrestrained personality and avant-garde artistic style.
Red Note: Napping James Whistler 1873—1875
Self-portrait James Whistler 1872
Of course, not all artists are eager to prove their worth with signatures. Master Michelangelo only left one work with his own signature in his life. When he was only 23 years old, he was commissioned by the French cardinal to make a statue of “Mourning for Christ” for St. Peter’s Church.
After this masterpiece came out, it was praised by everyone, but many people thought that the author was another artist named Solari. After learning of this, Michelangelo carved his own name on the belt of the Virgin to show his identity, and this sculpture has become his only signature work. Later, perhaps it was because I regretted my vanity that day, or because I believed that my superb skills no longer need to be verified by signatures, and the master never left a name on any of his works.
Mourning Christ by Michelangelo sculpture 1498
For auction houses, a master’s signature will enhance the value of a work; for art historians, a signature is an important basis for distinguishing authenticity.
For example, Picasso liked to sign “PR Picasso” or “Ruiz Picasso” directly on the screen in the early days, and then replaced it with a more decorative version, using his most iconic, underlined signature.