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Site last updated
26 June, 2013
Art Forgery
It takes an army of art critics, authenticators, and other experts to maintain a stable market for paintings, sculpture, manuscripts, stamps, coins, photos, and other antique collectibles. They carry with them a barrage of heavy scientific and technological artillery with which to work, and lest you think this might be something in the nature of overkill, hardly a day goes by that somewhere in the world, there is not a headline regarding some form of art fraud which their vigilance has brought to light. And likewise, technology is often at work on the other side of the fence manufacturing such art frauds to the point that it would seem some artists may well have created more work after their death than before.

It may come as something of a shock then to know that one of the most famous artists to ever live was once involved in just such a fraud. He was born in 1475, the son of a minor, upper middle-class government official in the Tuscan town of Caprese. His mother died soon after he was born. He was raised by a father and two brothers who stubbornly refused to actually "work" for a living, preferring instead a rather feast-or-famine existence as somewhat shiftless bureaucrats. At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to an ex-jeweller turned painter where he showed great promise. Later, as a high-spirited teenager, he came under the influence and patronage of the ruling family of Florence where he picked up the art of stone carving and discovered his true love--sculpture. If you haven't guessed by now, his name was Michelangelo Buonarotti.

Even in the fifteenth century, antiquities (in this case Roman or Greek), were highly prized and considered quite valuable. A second-rate Roman copy of a Greek god was worth ten times more than a first-rate contemporary piece. Michelangelo was never known to have much of a sense of humour, but what there was of it was decidedly sour. He set about to carve himself a cupid in a very authentic Roman style, which he, in tandem with an expert in art forgeries, managed to pawn off on a supposed connoisseur of Roman art for a considerable sum of money. Having perpetrated the hoax more as a dark joke than for the money, Michelangelo couldn't resist bragging about it to a few of his friends, which of course, proved his undoing. The collector, a Catholic Cardinal by the way, got word of it and demanded his money back, which was, in due course, returned. Later, after moving on to Rome, Michelangelo tried to approach the Cardinal in hopes that his little "joke" might serve to demonstrate his obvious talent and gain him some commissions. The Cardinal was not amused.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
2 September 1998

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