How to Read a Provenance

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The Crowning of Saint Catherine, Peter Paul Rubens, 1631

Recording an object’s provenance can be done in different ways, but the Toledo Museum of Art, along with many other institutions and collectors, follows the standard format put forth by the American Association of Museums.

Here’s an example of how a work of art is credited:

Peter Paul Rubens
The Crowning of Saint Catherine, 1631
Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey

Here is an example of that work of art’s provenance record:

Church of the Augustinians, Malines, 1633-1765;
Gabriel-Francois-Joseph de Verhulst, Brussels, 1765 (deNeck, Brussels, Aug. 16, 1779, lot 43);
Dukes of Rutland, Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire, 1779-1911;
(Francis Kleinberger, Paris, 1911-1912);
Leopold Koppel, Berlin, 1912-1933;
Albert Koppel, Berlin, 1933-1950.
Acquired from the above, through the Rosenberg & Stiebel Gallery, New York, 1950

A group of 5 men carefully moving The Crowning of Saint Catherine.

Munich Collecting Point, post World War II with German workmen handling the Rubens that TMA would acquire a few years later. Photo by Johannes Felbermeyer

From The AAM Guide to Provenance Research:

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.