Art Forgery: The History of a Modern Obsession

Art Forgery: The History of a Modern Obsession

Thierry Lenain

Language: English

Pages: 384

ISBN: 1861898509

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

With the recent advent of technologies that make detecting art forgeries easier, the art world has become increasingly obsessed with verifying and ensuring artistic authenticity. In this unique history, Thierry Lenain examines the genealogy of faking and interrogates the anxious, often neurotic, reactions triggered in the modern art world by these clever frauds.
Lenain begins his history in the Middle Ages, when the issue of false relics and miracles often arose. But during this time, if a relic gave rise to a cult, it would be considered as genuine even if it obviously had been forged. In the Renaissance, forgery was initially hailed as a true artistic feat. Even Michelangelo, the most revered artist of the time, copied drawings by other masters, many of which were lent to him by unsuspecting collectors. Michelangelo would keep the originals himself and return the copies in their place. As Lenain shows, authenticity, as we think of it, is a purely modern concept. And the recent innovations in scientific attribution, archaeology, graphology, medical science, and criminology have all contributed to making forgery more detectable—and thus more compelling and essential to detect. He also analyzes the work of master forgers like Eric Hebborn, Thomas Keating, and Han van Meegeren in order to describe how pieces baffled the art world.
Ultimately, Lenain argues that the science of accurately deciphering an individual artist’s unique characteristics has reached a level of forensic sophistication matched only by the forger’s skill and the art world’s paranoia.

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extracted and ‘collected’. Some of them have been discovered on sites where no other reindeer bones were found in areas where humans lived, and this indicates that they, too, could be acquired by way of exchange. The production of ‘ersatz’ deer canines and turret seashells made of ivory may (above) Aurignacian period (c. 35,000 bc) ivory replica of a deer canine tooth, found in the Grotte de la Betche-aux-Roches, Spy, Belgium. (right) Aurignacian period (c. 35,000 bc) ivory replica of a fossil

according to the immanent rules of human understanding. Strictly speaking, in the case of an exhumation the authentication process would not be possible on the sole grounds of those external, though direct, elements of evidence: hard proof that the remnants have not been substituted would also be necessary. Whatever the usual privilege of miracles and revelations as a means of authentication, the role of rational enquiries based on the close examination of strictly objective, primary clues should

relic until the bishop had solemnly sworn that it was the genuine article (which in this case could only mean that it was not a recent substitute). A very early example of a written statement of authenticity pertains to St Basil sending to St Ambrose a piece of the corpse of his predecessor St Dionysius of Milan in the s. Basil asserted that no error was possible regarding the identification of the remains since the funeral had been celebrated solemnly and there was only one coffin in the

Saviour that ended up in northern France: the Virgin of Cambrai, said to be the very portrait of Mary painted by St Luke. Apocryphal traditions have it that Luke was not only a physician and an evangelist but also a painter who made the portrait of the Virgin and Child. That legend must have been inspired, circularly, by the existence of supposedly antique paintings representing the Virgin, which were ascribed to Luke apparently on no other grounds than the fact that his Gospel deals with Mary

aesthetic side. The Problem with Modesty At the other end of the rhetorical spectrum, a forger’s victim can simply confess his mistake. After all, is it not a common truth that everyone makes mistakes now and then – and especially so in the field of the attribution of artworks, as even connoisseurs as successful as Giovanni Morelli or Max J. Friedländer have always acknowledged? Such a confession would not only sound appropriately humble, it would also be consistent with the expectations of

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