The provenance is listed in chronological order, beginning with the earliest known owner. Life dates of owners, if known, are enclosed in brackets. Uncertain information is indicated by the terms “possibly” or “probably” and explained in footnotes. Dealers, auction houses, or agents are enclosed in parentheses to distinguish them from private owners. Relationships between owners and methods of transactions are indicated in the text and clarified through punctuation: a semicolon is used to indicate that the work passed directly between two owners (including dealers, auction houses, or agents), and a period is used to separate two owners (including dealers auction houses or agents) if a direct transfer did not occur or is not known to have occurred. Footnotes are used to document or clarify information.
Stylistic analysis is subjective: it rests on the astute eye of the art historian. Each artist has a style, a flair, a verve unique to himself, and this can be recognized. His style will undergo change throughout his career, and this, too, can be stylistically analyzed and documented from his known works. When an unknown work purporting to be by a certain artist is discovered, the art historian attempts to fit it into the overall body of works by this artist. The subject matter, the brushwork, the choice of colours, and the type of composition are all consistent elements in a given artist’s production. Any variation immediately arouses suspicion. When the idiosyncrasies of an artist’s brushwork are studied, a fraud can sometimes be detected in much the same way a handwriting forgery is proven. In ancient works, particularly in antiquities, the scholar must examine the iconography of a piece. Forgers rarely have the scholarly background to combine iconographic elements correctly, and their errors often betray them.
Another reason that art fraud is difficult to control is that the art market is enormous, unwieldy, and greatly varied, embracing items from Victorian buttons to 6th-century Greek vases and from medieval pilgrim badges to contemporary photographs. Business is often conducted under the veil of secrecy, with buyers wishing to remain anonymous to avoid the attention of burglars and other opportunists. It would be logistically impossible to monitor all of the transactions between dealers, private collectors, and museums that are in the business of acquiring art. Suspected art forgeries are generally considered on a case-by-case basis, because they can usually be identified only by an expert in the field. But it is not unusual for two experts to have wildly different opinions of the authenticity of the same object, based in each case on reputable evidence.
Art fraud, the deliberately false representation of the artist, age, origins, or ownership of a work of art in order to reap financial gain. Forgery of a famous artist’s work is the best-known kind of art fraud, but fraud may also result from the knowing misattribution of the age or origin of a work of art—if, for example, an art dealer were to falsely assert that a statue was from 5th-century-bce Greece or that a vase was from the Chinese Ming dynasty, for the purpose of making a greater profit, because works from those particular regions or time periods are deemed more valuable on the contemporary art market. Art theft for resale is also a form of art fraud.