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Faking it.


It's not new, Michelangelo was adept at fakery when he sculpted a putti and then aged it (apparently with urine and acid) in order to make it seem antique. He then gave it to his agent, who sold it to Cardinal Raffaele Riario. Unfortunately the cleric found out he had been duped and demanded his money back - Michelangelo somehow managing to hold onto his share of the sale.

And then there's Rembrandt - too busy with commissions to paint all the pictures himself he signed many of his pupils' works as his own. The signature being of more value than the painting itself. 'Twas ever thus....

But that's the acceptable face of fakery, the less agreeable form is the numerous methods by which dealers, collectors, and at times auction houses are duped. Not that the methods of forgery aren't impressive. New ivory can be placed in a woman's cleavage and the oils and sweat will age it in a matters of weeks. Many antique church statues missing limbs or heads missing have been restored by adding new portions of sculpture--- but here lies the criminality; the new additions are taken from the antique, destroyed pieces ground down, their antique stone or marble to use as filler in the repairs. Which means that if the piece is X-Rayed the repairs do not show up as modern.

Apparently nothing ages new stone as well as an intensive, and regular, bathing of urine. If this is helped along by a hot sun, all the good. Yet it wasn't just paintings or sculpture that were faked. The famous painter, Francisco de Herrera, was rewarded by Philip IV for designing several regal coins, but here the artist became greedy and began to make counterfeit money. The King didn't see the joke and Herrera, desperate to escape the prison and the Inquisition, painted the monarch's portrait and peace was restored.

As everyone knows, Angelica Kauffmann was a much admired artist, feted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and becoming the toast of London society. However her intelligence and talent did not extend to her choice of lovers. Believing she had she married into the aristocracy by becoming the wife of the Swedish Count de Horn she was mortified to discover that he was a 100 per cent fake. He wasn't a count, he was a valet, and worse, he was valet to the real Count de Horn.

Back to artistic fakery, which is inspired at times. A watercolour painting done half an hour ago can be aged by being carefully dipped in weak tea, or sprayed with the same to imitate 'foxing'. Of course no watercolour or oil painting would be successful unless the right paints and mediums are used to deceive. Fakers trawl markets for old paintings so they can use the canvases, and they grind their own pigments to prevent anyone finding 21st Century Burnt Umber in a supposedly 17th century religious painting. Another sly way by which people cheat is by showing a buyer a valuable painting and inciting their interest. But behind the painting is another canvas, a fake recently created. The buyer is then asked to mark the back of the picture with a X so he can rest assured that it is the painting he has chosen. Later, when the work is delivered to the poor dupe, he complains to the seller, only to be shown the mark he made on the back of the counterfeit painting. It's appalling, but inspired.

And sometimes the Old Masters were themselves victims of fakes.

On his engraving of The Holy Virgin,' Durer wrote a warning: "Be cursed, plunderers and imitators of the work and talent of others." And that was in the 15th Century.

More recently, in 1981, a sign appeared outside the Taxila Museum in Pakistan. (See photograph below.)

More to follow.....


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