Discover the different ways artists identify themselves on their works of art.
Fact #1: Signed and Sealed
In ancient times, stone cylinder seals were used to mark personal property and official documents, much as we use signatures and official stamps today. Often the owner's name and rank or occupation were carved on these seals, along with images of people, animals, and gods. This seal has two human figures, one riding a horse. The seal could be fastened to the owner's necklace or wristband by a cord or metal pin passed through a hole made lengthwise through the center.
The first cylinder seals were made about 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). They were closely linked with the invention of an early form of writing on clay, called cuneiform (kyu-NEE-uh-form). As the influence of Mesopotamian culture spread, other civilizations began using cylinder seals.
In Mesopotamia and the surrounding region, most personal possessions were stored in jars or baskets. These were covered with a cloth secured with string, and a slab of clay was pressed over the string. The cylinder seal was rolled over the moist clay, leaving an imprint that identified the owner. Once the clay dried, anyone tampering with the contents would have to break the seal. Such seals were also used on warehouse doors and to verify accounting records.
Fact #1 caption/s
Rolled over wet clay, this cylinder seal leaves an imprint of two human figures, one on horseback.
This cylinder seal belonged to Ibni-sharrum, scribe to a Mesopotamian king. The inscription reads "divine Shar-kali-sharri, Ibni-sharrum the scribe is your servant."
Mesopotamia, late Akkadian period, reign of Shar-kali-sharri, Cylinder seal of Ibni-sharrum, c. 2217-2193 B.C., diorite, Musée du Louvre, Department of Near Eastern Antiquities, AO 22303. Photography B. White
Egyptians used signet seals in the shape of the sacred scarab beetle to identify owners and authenticate documents.
Egypt, Scarab, 1504-1450 B.C., green-glazed steatite, Minneapolis Institute of Art, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund
Fact #2: Armed with an Identity
A coat of arms is a design, usually in a shield shape, that identifies an individual or a family. In medieval Europe, knights in armor going into battle or jousting in tournaments carried shields and banners displaying their coats of arms or other heraldic emblems. (Heraldry is the system of designing and assigning coats of arms.) These vivid symbols in bold colors helped soldiers tell friend from foe.
Coats of arms were granted by kings and queens to their knights and nobles. This Italian coat of arms belonged to the Borghese family of Rome. It can be traced to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a great patron of the arts. This high-ranking churchman had one of the largest art collections in all of Europe, and his support helped the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini become 17th-century Italy's leader in the baroque style of art. The coat of arms has a crowned eagle above a dragon, three cherubs just above the shield, and, at the very top, the Borghese family's princely crown.
At first knights and nobles were free to chose their own symbols. But as more and more coats of arms were granted, and used as seals on legal documents as well as battlefield emblems, the imagery became strictly regulated. Today coats of arms are still used around the world for various purposes. But they are now granted to highly esteemed people whatever their social status.
Fact #2 caption/s
The Borghese eagle and dragon emblems appear on the inkwell in this painting of a Borghese family member.
Fact #5 caption/s
This ancient Greek vessel has an anthemion band around the top.
Attributed to the Painter of Vatican 359, Black-Figure Neck Amphora, c. 540 BCE, Slip-glazed earthenware, Minneapolis Institute of Art, The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund
Moore's friend James McNeill Whistler also signed his works with a symbol, but his was inspired by Asian art. It began as a monogram and evolved into an abstract butterfly.
James McNeill Whistler, Old Putney Bridge, 1879, etching and drypoint, Minneapolis Institute of Art, The William M. Ladd Collection, gift of Herschel V. Jones
An Artist’s Mark
Artists' monograms often use letters to form unique yet recognizable designs. Design your own monogram for signing works of art that you create. Choose a letter or letters from your first, middle, and last names. Try different letter styles and play with the arrangement. Add your own touches to make your monogram distinctive.
Rolling It Out
With some clay and a dowel you can create your own cylinder seal. Begin by rolling the clay into a cylindrical shape. Press a small dowel through it lengthwise. This will make a hole so your seal can be strung onto a string. Use small pointed tools to carve a design and perhaps your name into the clay. You must carve your design in reverse; otherwise, the prints made with your seal will be backwards. Fire the clay in a kiln. Then roll it over a rectangle of fresh clay to see what the seal has to say.
An Eye for Advertising
Like the artists whose signatures are highlighted here, businesses and other organizations use designs that quickly convey their identity without the use of words. Such designs are called logos. Think of stores you visit or products you see on television that advertise with logos. List the names of these companies or products and draw their logos. What makes a logo successful? Why do you think logos are so widely used?