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... falsifications that mislead the public, corrupt aesthetic standards, distort history and waste money. Pope (1939)
A (very) brief history of faking and forgery
The deceptive simulation of fanything of value goes back into antiquity, and ancient accounts abound with descriptions of adulterated gold (Ramage and Craddock, 2000, pp. 27–53) and imitation gemstones (Taniguchi et al., 2002); moreover, the earliest known coin hoard contains counterfeits. Once antiques began to be appreciated they were copied, although the Roman copies of Greek originals do not seem to have been made with deceptive intent. Chinese Song period imitations of Han and earlier bronzes, made a thousand years ago, are more equivocal. They often do not seem to us to be deliberate forgeries, but they do have fake patinas and there are contemporary writings warning of the prevalence of forgeries and how to make them, the first on record (see Chapter 14, p. 356; Figure 14.7). From Late Antiquity in the West, the cult of relics flourished and, with that, the production of fakes and forgeries, exemplified by what is now perhaps the most famous of them all, the Shroud of Turin (see Chapter 5, p. 102). These began to be scientifically investigated by the Vatican in the late nineteenth century, probably the earliest dedicated authentication unit anywhere. Another prolific area of Medieval forgery was that of documents, particularly of supposedly old land grant charters, which could be used in cases of disputed ownership.
The interest in antiquities of all types that characterised the Renaissance led to the establishment of more formal collections and ultimately to the establishment of museums. The faking and forging of antiquities began at much the same time and has flourished ever since. Most of the early productions are not very convincing either stylistically or technically; this was due to a general lack of detailed stylistic information and an almost total ignorance of the appropriate materials and technology. The former began to be seriously addressed by art historians, notably Frederick Winckelmann, in the eighteenth century, and informed both collectors and forgers. This problem of information dissemination or restriction generated a debate that continues to this day (see p. 17).
In the nineteenth century there developed an interest in collecting archaeological, palaeontological, geological and ethnographic material, closely followed by their forgery (see Chapter 17, p. 429 and Chapter 19). For example, forgeries of preHispanic antiquities were already being made in Mexico in the 1820s for sale to tourists and collectors and were major trade items in some localities by the late nineteenth century (Holmes et al., 1886).
In Europe, interest in antique styles spread to the middle classes and brought about growth in the production of often quite passable copies of a wide range of decorative arts of all periods on an industrial scale. This process was very much aided by new replication techniques such as electroforming (see Chapter 4, p. 78) and color printing (see Chapter 13, p. 332). The combination of increasing art historical knowledge of past styles, coupled with often superb craftsmanship, enabled convincing fakes and forgeries of ceramics, glass, metalwork and jewellery, etc. to be produced. Fortunately, a combination of the Victorian attitude of knowing better than their predecessors, and a lack of technical knowledge of the past, means that there are often glaring anachronisms of materials and technique, which has, more recently, enabled some of their fakes and forgeries to be unmasked after scientific examination.
Through the twentieth century the availability of traditional craft skills may have declined, in Europe at least, but the ever-increasing prices realised by antiquities and objet d'art of all kinds have ensured that fraudulent production continues. Furthermore, craft skills at low cost are still widely available outside Europe, and there is a growing influx of passable copies of just about every class of antique and collectable item from fake-patinated Shang jade to Clarice Cliff pots, coming from the Far East. These 'shamtiques', available in every market, high street and shopping mall, are instantly recognisable for what they are and not usually sold as the genuine item even though they often have some rudimentary ageing and patination treatments. However, many of the traditional techniques used, from cloisonné enamelling to lost wax casting are fundamentally correct, and with a little more application convincing forgeries could, and probably are, being made in quantity in the same workshops.
At the same time new techniques of copying, exemplified by the ink-jet printer, and new materials, exemplified by epoxy resins, have made it much easier to produce copies that are visually convincing.
The combination of the above factors and the markets created by the ever-expanding middle classes across the world with too much ready cash and too little discrimination has resulted in a wider range and greater extent of fraudulent copying than ever before.
Fortunately, there has been a continuing improvement in the scientific methods of materials examination which has helped to counter this. There is also now a greatly expanded knowledge of the materials and technologies used in the past together with a more fundamental understanding of the physical and chemical processes of natural ageing and corrosion.
This book, being aimed at both the curator/ collector and the scientist, encounters the broader problem of the relationship between the arts and the sciences in the study of antiquities and works of art. So often the art historian/curator does not appreciate the capabilities or understand the limitations of modern scientific investigation, and equally the scientist often seems not to understand the real nature of the questions asked, or sufficiently appreciate the problems and opportunities presented by the materials.
Arts versus science?
The impression is sometimes given of the hapless and subjective art historian being brushed aside by the objective scientist who carries out a series of tests that rapidly and conclusively demonstrate the true age of the suspect piece, and everything else about it. Statements such as 'The scientist with cold, calculated clinical methods today can expose the forgery which will appear in any field ...' (Mills, 1972, p. 60), are fairly typical. Von Bothmer (1964), writing of the application of ultraviolet (UV) examination to rehabilitate an antiquity, noted with satisfaction that 'The introduction of technical considerations somewhat spoils the sport of attacking works of art since intuition and stylistic appreciation now have to be coordinated with laborious scientific investigation'. Indictor (1998), discussing the examination of the Buyid silks (see Chapter 18, p. 462), made the contentious claim that 'objective dating [AMS dating in this instance] should routinely precede stylistic or other technical studies in order to avoid the embarrassment of misattribution' (but see Spier, 1990 for a counterview).
In reality, the two approaches are very similar and must work together. The elements of the information they contain are complementary, information from one discipline often being essential to the study of the other, and the scientific data should be seen as extending the range of existing information, certainly not replacing it. The supposed Roman lamp in the form of a gladiator's helmet is a high-profile example of a case where, apparently science conclusively overturned the previous art historical opinion. The helmet had graced the cover of the British Museum's popular guide to Classical pottery lamps (Figure 1.1) (Bailey, 1972) before being shown to be a forgery by TL (Bailey, 1988, p. 433, Q3401). The reality was that Don Bailey, the curator responsible for the Museum's collection of Classical lamps, had become worried about the authenticity of the lamp during the compilation of his magisterial catalogue of the collection, and requested that it be tested to confirm his suspicions.
Many of the authors of books on fakes and forgeries seem to take the view that scientific tests are fundamentally different in approach from those of the art historian and are somehow more reliable. In fact, the art historical/stylistic criteria are based on ordinary physical properties of color, texture, weight, dimensions, etc. that the art historian is mentally quantifying and comparing to a canon of genuine pieces. This is exactly the process carried out by the scientist, except that the information is often obtained using a piece of apparatus that produces the data as a number.
Part of the problem is that these numerical results are perceived by the non-scientist as being somehow sacrosanct and unchallengeable. The non-specialist usually lacks the knowledge to assess how meaningful the figures are, and also, very often, the qualifying data on accuracy, precision and detection limits (see Chapter 3, p. 41) which is necessary for this to be done is not provided. Even so it is not the numerical value itself of whatever parameter which condemns or authenticates the suspect piece, but rather the value judgement put upon it, based upon comparison with other pieces, which is exactly the same approach as that adopted by the art historian.
An example is given by Drake's Plate of brass (see Chapter 7, p. 150). This was supposedly left by the great voyager near present-day San Francisco, and is condemned partly because of the very high zinc content of 34.2%, which is above the 33.3% maximum believed to be the limit attainable in the sixteenth century. However, it would be very incautious to condemn the piece on that 0.9% of zinc alone. What is the reliability (the accuracy) of the figure, and the significance of the 0.9% (the precision)? Also, how certain is the upper limit of 33.3%? Certainly the zinc content is unusually high for the sixteenth century, but is it impossible to have been achieved? This is where value judgements based on a more general experience must be made, very much as an art historian would do.
Even some of the most famous and extensively investigated authenticity cases are not fully resolved, or at least not universally accepted. Forgeries, such as the infamous ceramics from Glozel, which archaeologists, notably O.G.S. Crawford and Glyn Daniels in Britain and A. Vayson de Pradenne in France, could not resist repeatedly and almost gleefully attacking, were latterly shown to be almost certainly ancient after all (see Chapter 6, p. 119). Some, such as theVinland Map, are still tenaciously defended (see Chapter 13, p. 340), while others produce scientific data that is presently irresolvable and thus remain undecided, such as the real age of King Arthur's Round Table at Winchester Castle (see Chapter 6, p. 133). If nothing else, these cases help to dispel belief in the inflexible objective certainty of conclusions based on scientific examination and perhaps may encourage a more thoughtful and informed use of the data generated by the scientists and the conclusions drawn from them.
Excerpted from SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION OF COPIES, FAKES AND FORGERIES by Paul Craddock Copyright © 2009 by Elsevier Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Butterworth-Heinemann. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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