Art Term


Attribute has different meanings as a noun and a verb: An attribute (noun) in art is an object or animal associated with a particular personage; to attribute (verb) a work of art is to suggest it may be by a particular artist

Unknown artist, France
Apollo (1720)

The most common attributes (objects/animals associated with personages) are those of the ancient Greek gods. For example doves, birds associated with love, are attributes of the goddess of love, Aphrodite or Venus. So a female nude with a dove or doves may be identified as Venus. The ancient musical instrument known as a lyre is an attribute of Apollo, god of music and the arts. A bow and arrows and/or a spear, together with hounds, are attributes of the goddess Diana, who was famous as a huntress. She was also goddess of the moon, so often has a crescent in her hair.

A work in the Tate collection which perfectly illustrates both meanings (noun and verb) is the French School work, Apollo. This includes Apollo’s main attribute of a lyre, but also some subsidiary attributes such as the sunburst behind his head (he is also known as the god of the sun), the laurel wreath he is wearing, and the objects in the left corner, which represent the arts – sculpture among them. This painting has at various times been attributed to the painters Antonio Verrio, Louis Chéron, and Nicholas de Largillière.