Word Gallery: Workshop

Throughout art history, scholars have devised a special vocabulary to talk about art. These terms are very useful, but they are not always self-explanatory. So we thought we'd take you into the art historical word gallery to provide some definitions commonly used to describe artistic styles, techniques, or movements in art.


Workshop of Leonard Limosin (French, 1505–1577). The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, ca. 1570. Enamel on copper. Mr. and Mrs. E. John Magnin gift. 75.18.85

Today, the concept of “artist” is well defined as an individual with artistic talent who produces artwork by and large credited solely to his or her name. Historically, however, artistic practice often has been a collaborative process, with several artists or craftsmen working together in a workshop. Artwork created in a workshop, by definition, cannot be attributed to a single artist. For example, the above painting is attributed to the "‘workshop of Leonard Limosin," which suggests that the artist (Limosin) served in a supervisory capacity, overseeing the implementation of his original design by his workshop, or team of expert artists and/or craftsmen.

Workshops not only served as the location where art was created, but also as a training center or art school, where young artists learned from an experienced master. The training of apprentices was an essential part of medieval workshop practice. During this period, artists were considered highly skilled craftsmen who worked as a member of a team in multiple media. It wasn’t until the subsequent period of the Renaissance that individual artists began to garner widespread, individual recognition.

The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy, on view at the Legion of Honor through December 31, presents an exquisitely carved funerary procession made by the sculpture workshop employed by the Duke of Burgundy.

Jean de La Huerta and Antoine le Moiturier. Mourners (installation detail), 1443–1456/57. Alabaster. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo: Andrew Fox/FAMSF

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Valois dukes of Burgundy were among the most powerful rulers in the Western world, and their significant artistic patronage drew artists, musicians, and writers to Dijon, France, which soon became a major center of creativity. Innovative and prolific, the ducal court’s sculpture workshop produced some of the most significant art of the period as well as its most talented sculptors, including the masters of the Mourners, Jean de La Huerta and Antoine le Moiturier.