Art specialists with expertise in art authentication began to surface in the art world during the late 1850s. At that time they were usually historians or museum curators, writing books about paintings, sculpture, and other art forms. Communication among the different specialties was poor, and they often made mistakes when authenticating pieces. While many books and art catalogues were published prior to 1900, many were not widely circulated, and often did not contain information about contemporary artwork. In addition, specialists prior to the 1900s lacked many of the important technological means that experts use to authenticate art today. Traditionally, a work in an artist's "catalogue raisonné" has been key to confirming the authenticity, and thus value. Omission from an artist's catalogue raisonné indeed can prove fatal to any potential resale of a work, notwithstanding any proof the owner may offer to support authenticity.
The notion of intellectual property—the idea that artists’ works belong to them—dates at least to medieval Europe, though history records examples of the concept as early as ancient Greece. It had taken hold sufficiently during the Renaissance for Michelangelo to take umbrage when his work was misattributed. It was reported that when he discovered that another artist was receiving credit for sculpting the famous Pietà (now in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome), Michelangelo returned with his chisel and added his signature across the centre of the sculpture, on the prominent sash across Mary’s upper body (in Italian): “Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this.”