“The scientist and the forger workshop”: we need a shared protocol to identify fakes

Dec 18, 2021 | Authentications & attributions, Conferences, Cutural Heritage, Fakes, Highlights

How to authenticate a work of art? How to reveal forgeries?

On 2 and 3 December 2021, as a result of an excellent initiative of the Italian Group of the International Institute for Conservation, the workshop “The scientist and the forgery – Scientific methodologies to identify fakes in art”  was held in Lucca.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there is the need to tackle this issue in a structured way. During the conference, the many angles from which to address it were discussed: art market, authentication, attribution, dating, stylistic analyses.

At the center of the discussion is the false / falsified / misattributed / authentic object, studied by many, intersecting but not superimposable, professional disciplines that must be able to communicate in a constructive way, to the benefit of the whole community, not just the scientific one.

In fact a forgery, if not recognized as such, not only causes economic losses to those who are defrauded, but can also cause a broader, social damage: it modifies the course of things, the real history of art, providing a distorted version which impacts on all possible conclusions from it.

ArtTest presented the case study of a panel by Bruegel the Younger, wishing to contribute by bringing attention to what we now consider an urgency that can no longer be postponed. A shared protocol for a scientific study of artefacts, structured in a pyramidal manner that adds layers of in-depth analyses depending on previous results.

In addition, the minimum characteristics of the instrumentation to be used for the analises need to be defined, as well as which methodologies are useful and in which order they should be applied. This approach is essential to enable an accurate interpretation and a possible replicability of the measurements.

Furthermore, there is a lack of shared guidelines for the reports provided by the laboratories after carrying out the analyses. Often what is provided is only a generic description of the results, but the raw data obtained are not included, nor the description of the instrumentation and methodology used.

At the same time, we wanted to highlight that there are still too few public databases from which to draw scientific information.

By sharing data we should not be afraid of favoring counterfeiters, as although they may become increasingly aware of the techniques used by the great masters; it is equally true that science, as amply demonstrated, will always be one step ahead.

What we should be concerned of, once again, is the anti-scientific attitude that currently afflicts so many parts of our society, and the narrative that sees the self-declared connoisseurs capable of producing expertise only on the basis of their “eye”.

The workshop ended with the desire to create a technical workgroup to discuss, based on the different perspectives and experience, a base protocol to be applied for investigations and instruments.

The proceedings of the conference will soon be available.

Emanuela Massa