Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries

To London yesterday. We had to be near Sloane Square, so we took the opportunity to visit the Saatchi Gallery. We were most impressed. With the Gallery. Unfortunately the contents are mostly a pile of crap. We can recommend the restaurant for a light lunch though. Especially if the sun is shining and you can sit under one of the umbrellas outside.

Later we spent a very enjoyable and instructive hour at the (sparsely attended, so pleasingly very quiet) free exhibition at the National Gallery, Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries.


One room, ‘Being Botticelli’, raises something of a philosophical question. There, side by side, are two paintings bought by the gallery in 1874, from a sale of pictures collected by one Alexander Barker. The first is the wonderful ‘Venus and Mars’. The other picture, ‘An Allegory’ is a crude travesty (though it isn’t a fake — scientific investigation shows that it wasn’t painted long after Botticelli’s masterpiece.)


Yet at the time, this too was confidently attributed to Botticelli, and indeed at the sale commanded the higher price. But now, seeing them together, even the most casual gallery visitor (counting myself as one) must think how was that possible?. How was it not just obvious at the time that the paintings were of utterly different quality, technically and aesthetically? — well perhaps that’s not quite so obvious from the small reproductions here, but stand in front of the pictures, and the difference is startling. The proud buyers of ‘An Allegory’ for the nation must have seen the picture differently: what is it about aesthetic perception that can allow such extraordinary shifts?

I’m sure some philosopher must have written interestingly about such things. Suggestions?

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4 Responses to Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries

  1. David Auerbach says:

    The link below has some relevant musings/case study of “how couldn’t they see what I see” but wrt to forgery.

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/bamboozling-ourselves-part-1/

  2. Gc says:

    Yeah the difference in clear and IMO the above painting is clearly superior. But the truth is that the most “value” for these famous paintings comes from the painters names. It`s hard to say is some piece painted by a Picasso in a bad day or it`s a forgery. So in order to find that out usually one must track the history of the painting or use science if ot`s a old a painting, which have been found recently- Of course at least some of these renaissance painters painted very little and kept up very high quality all the time.
    I read from a paper while ago that Botticelli pictured Mars high on that above picture and what that little devil on the right is holding is thorn apple. Does not look like a thorn apple to me :P

  3. David Auerbach says:

    I don’t know if it’s the salience effect or the zeitgeist but there’s this in today’s NYTimes:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/arts/design/13abroad.html?ref=arts&pagewanted=all

  4. jan koster says:

    nelson goodman, languages of art.

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