This article contends that a modern discourse about sculpture as an art originated in the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries in Italy. It suggests that sculpture’s specificity, e.g. its merits and limitations, came to be defined mainly through a comparison with painting that was at once practical and theoretical. People in Italy at the time understood their encounters with artistic objects aesthetically and strived to acquire knowledge of art. Drawing and visual note-taking played fundamental roles in their connoisseurial training. Connoisseurs and artists alike talked, wrote and polemicized about art. They did so in their own terms, though often they borrowed ancient writers’ words, concepts and biases. They also believed that ancient painting had been totally obliterated and could only be read about in books. Conversely, ancient sculpture had survived and thus provided a touchstone against which to measure the skills of coeval sculptors, albeit one that – it is argued herein – condemned them to anonymity.