First Artist Who Signed

greek signature first(Click on thumbnail to enlarge)
The first artist’s signature in history is this one by Sophilos, who scratched his name on a Greek pot. It says: “Sophilos drew me” (Sophilos Me Grafsen)

He painted his pot during the great industrial revolution in Athens (sixth century BC), when a quarter of the city was turned over to potters and painters, whose products sold like hotcakes all over the Mediterranean. For the first time in history the artists signed their names—both the potter and the painter.

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4 Responses to First Artist Who Signed

  1. Ion Danu says:

    the first we know of… I imagined the author of the Venus Calipigus (VEnus with a big, nice behind) also took pride in his work, some thousands of years before Sophilos… Or maybe not? Maybe you shouldn,t sign your works and they should be so original, so striking, that people can tell, wow, that’s a Danu? or a GD…?

  2. 100swallows says:

    Hi Danu. Of course it looks like artists started signing because of the money. Sophilos’s pride and desire for money was greater than his skill. Other painters were better. [Actually, it just dawned on me that it was the competition, the rivalry among artists in old Greece, that made them sign.]

    I’m not sure when your Venus was sculpted but it couldn’t have been much before. Sophilos was 580–did I see? Precisely sculpture and painting on panels finally put the ceramics painters out of business. [I just saw that your Venus was a neolithic figure–sorry! I couldn’t find her picture on Google.]
    Michelangelo signed only one of his works–the Pietà; and he did that when he heard some admirers of the statue attributing it to somebody else. THAT he couldn’t take. In our time you simply must identify yourself (though something there is that doesn’t like Picasso’s inevitable signature on just anything he scrawled off).

  3. Indeed, Sophilos’ signature is one of the earliest known, but not the earliest. There’s a still earlier one on a krater (wine mixing bowl) made by a Greek in one of the Greek colonies in Southern Italy. It dates from the middle 7th century B.C. and was found in the city of Cerveteri (today it is in the “Museo del Palazzo dei Conservatori” in Rome, Italy). It is known as the “Aristonothos krater” because of an inscription among the figures which reads (in retrograde script) “Aristonothos epoiesen” (made by Aristonothos). The word “epoiesen” (made) is usually used to denote the potter, but in this case it is possible that potter and painter were the same person.
    You are right in saying that competition among the painters was one of the main reasons for signing the vases – actually that spirit of competition characterizes many aspects of the ancient Greek culture. There is an amphora of the late 6th century B.C. (today in the “Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptotek” in Munich, Germany) which proves your point. It was painted by Euthimides, one of the pioneers of the red-figure technique. Among three figures of dancing men, the painter wrote “hos oudepote Euphronios” (as never Euprhonios [could have done]). That was quite a boast, since Euphronios was one of the foremost painters of his generation. We will never know if the remark was made in the context of a friendly competition among fellow artisans, or it was a way to underline the superior capabilities of Euthimides in order to draw more clients for his products. Whichever the case, this is the earliest known case of art criticism I know of.

    • 100swallows says:

      Aristotole: Thanks for this long and interesting comment. You dug up an old post that I hadn’t myself seen in a long time and I’m not sure where I got the information. Of course if Aristonothos said he “epoiesen” and that was normally used by the potters, they are justified in calling Sophilos the first “artist”, i.e. painter, who signed. But Sophilos had better enjoy his fame because at any moment some older vase painter’s signature might be found.
      I’m always surprised at the good Greek stuff that comes from Italy!
      Thanks for the confirmation that it was competition that made those artisans sign their names; and the Munich amphora with the boast is a funny example (as is your line about “the earliest known case of art criticism”!)
      Keep sending in the good information. I’m all ears, professor. I saw your post on St. Basil and wagged my head at my ignorance. I’d never heard of him! It’s incredible how little we Americans (and other Europeans like Spaniards) know about Greece and countries east of Italy. My own knowledge stops with the Greece of the ancient world; and you would be amused at how little I know of that outside of the standard classics.

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