Fake Artrnby Ingrid D. RowlandrnTlie problem of forged art, always arneomplicated one, has been madernimmeasurably more complicated in thisrncentury because of two factors. One,rnthe appreciation of tribal art in its manyrnvarieties has coincided with the gradualrndisappearance of tribal living worldwide;rnthus some of the most vexing problemsrnof authenticity in the art world today besetrnthe market in African ceremonial art,rnwhere demand outstrips supply at anrnever-increasing rate. Similarly, the phenomenalrngrowth of science as a globalrndiscipline has spurred a global interest inrnarchaeology and ancient artifacts, theirrnreserves at least as limited as those ofrntribal artists. Many of the tribal artists,rnafter all, are still alive and able to produce.rnAncient civilizations, like old masters,rnno longer have that option.rnAside from the obvious economic issuernof value for money, forged art isrnproblematic because art itself, the worldrnover, has had so intimate a connectionrnwith the spiritual component of humanrnnature: a Greek kouros, an African mask,rna Raphael Madonna, and a Haida totemrnpole all speak in their disparate ways primarilyrnabout communion between thisrnworld and another. To interrupt such arncommunion, or to ape it for materialrngain, sits hard with our humanity. Peoplernhave been turned into pillars of saltrnfor lesser offenses than these.rnBecause of this lingering associationrnwith spiritual missions betrayed, the forgerrnof art differs from the puryeyor ofrnsnake oil in ministering falsely to an elusivernpsychic need rather than to a physicalrnailment. The damage incurred byrntaking in the phony goods may thereforernbe less tangible, but our palpablernneed as human beings for art—think ofrnthe profound effects wrought upon practicalrnAmerica by the Vietnam VeteransrnMemorial—suggests that forged artrnmight still be significantly invidious.rnThis is why, presumably, we make it arncrime.rnOn the other hand, forgery has alsornoccurred for a variety of reasons over thernmillennia—not always, that is, with P.T.rnBarnum’s intent to fulfill the destiny ofrnsuckers by means of spectacular sham.rnBorn as they are of misdirected “higher”rnimpulses, the motives for the forgery ofrnart have on occasion been exemplary.rnThey have also been shortsighted,rnwaggish, bigoted, and base. A briefrnpanoramic exhibit of these motivations,rnin the spirit of the divine Barnum, mayrnhelp to demonstrate what I mean.rnIn Phidias’ workshop, in Renaissancernartists’ studios, and in modern architects’rnoffices, the right of authorship for designsrnexecuted by master and workshoprnalike belongs in principle to the masterrn(that is, the head of the firm) and not tornthe association’s individual members.rnThe painting of a courtesan in the BarberinirnGallery in Rome (the so-calledrn”Fornarina”) has been taken by manyrnviewers as an authentic work of Raphaelrnbecause the naked sitter wears an armbandrnsigned with Raphael’s name. Thernwork’s clumsy draftsmanship leaves otherrnviewers with lingering doubts that so accomplishedrnan artist would ever have putrnhis name to that amorphous lap and thatrnawkwardly splayed, pudgy right hand.rnHowever, even if the painting is not actuallyrnfrom the hand of Raphael, thernsigned armband might mark it appropriatelyrnas a legitimate product of hisrnworkshop. Rather than a portrait of hisrnbeloved, then, the painting could be onernof the many courtesan portraits ascribedrnto Raphael by his biographer GiorgiornVasari, in which case the signature wouldrnserve as an over-insistent protestation ofrnauthenticity for a commission of secondaryrnimportance assigned to an assistant.rnWhat separates a “Fornarina” fromrna forgery is the contract binding thernartist’s assistant to the artist’s workshop,rnthe concept of “work for hire,” whichrnstill governs the administration of copyrightrnlaw.rnAnselmo Spannocchi, a banker ofrnSiena, wished to give Lorenzo de Medicirna special present in 1472, for in thatrnyear Lorenzo had helped tame the politicalrnclimate between the quarreling rivalrncities of Florence and Siena—thus makingrnthe world safe for Spannoechi’s businessrninterests. What could a private citizenrnpossibly give a public figure likernL,orenzo? The clever Anselmo settled onrnan Etruscan urn, to remind the Florentinernmagnate of their common tie to thernland of Tuscany and their presumptivernshared descent from its ancient people.rnEtruscan urns had been emerging fromrnTuscan soil for centuries, inscribed in arnbackward-facing alphabet whose interpretationrnwas an utter mystery until thern1490’s. And thus it was that AnselmornSpannocchi presented Lorenzo insteadrnwith an “Etruscan” urn labeled in Latin,rnin Latin poetry no less, and due to thisrnLatin inscription Lorenzo was able tornappreciate the fact that his new urn containedrnthe ashes of the most famous Etruscanrnof them all, Lars Porsenna, a warlordrnwho assailed the Romans in the laternfifth century B.C. and, according to atrnleast one Roman historian and nearly allrnmodern scholars, conquered the city.rnDid Lorenzo know that the urn ofrnPorsenna was a forgery? He had a privaternmuseum filled with genuine Etruscanrnartifacts and the perceptive eye to knowrngood contemporary art from bad. Ifrnpressed, he would certainly have admittedrnhis doubts. Yet an excessive displayrnof such pedantic knowledge would notrnonly have spoiled his enjoyment ofrnAnselmo Spannoechi’s present, it wouldrnhave destroyed the intricate symbolismrnof the gift. Anselmo was giving him notrnso much a falsified Etruscan urn as anrnimproved Etruscan urn, improved by itsrnexalted contents, the mortal remains ofrnnoble Porsenna, and by the legibility ofrnits Latin inscription, by which everyonernwould know Porsenna’s urn for what itrnwas. Forgeries are very often of this sort,rndeceptions in the way that fiction is deceptive,rntellers, to use Donald Spence’srnfelicitous phrase, of “narrative truth” atrnthe expense of historical truth.rnIn the mid-I980’s, dredging work beganrnon a drainage canal that flowsrnthrough the outskirts of the Italian portrnof Livorno. This channel passes temptinglyrnclose to the site of the former studiornof Livorno’s great local artist,rnAmedeo Modigliani, back in the daysrnbefore he joined the throngs of expatriaternmodernists in Paris. Could the venerablernditch, like an archaeological excavation,rnsomehow have preserved somernoffscouring of Modigliani’s work as arnsculptor, a tangible trace of the brilliantrncareer that was yet to be?rnShortly after this lovely possibility wasrnbruited about by the good citizens ofrnLivorno, a series of partially carved stonernheads was raised from the channel’srnmuddy waters. Rapturous critics praisedrntheir stark modernity, their blend ofrnprimitive vigor and sophisticated composition.rnArt critics around the countryrnstaked their reputations on their abilityrnto discern, on these mud-spawned carvings,rnthe fine young hand of Modiglianirnhimself. Even when four local boys confessedrnthat they, and not the greatrnAmedeo, were the real sculptors, andrnthat they had worked only yesterdayrnrather than three-quarters of a centuryrnSEPTEMBER 1993/43rnrnrn