True Lies: Forging and Manipulating Antiquities in Renaissance Italy

Barbara Furlotti, Ph.D.

The definition of forgery provided by the Oxford English Dictionary – ‘The making of a thing in fraudulent imitation of something’ – sounds simplistic and somehow tainted by moral judgement when compared to the pragmatic approach to forgeries and manipulated antiquities that antiquarians and collectors seem to have developed in the Renaissance. As a sophisticated patron like Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle (1517–1586) apparently used to say, it is sometimes better to have ‘a modern work that is perfect and modelled upon an antique specimen than an ancient one that is imperfect’. Contemporary binary descriptors, such as prototype/replica and especially original/forgery, exemplify our difficulties in grasping and conveying more nuanced Renaissance views, such as Granvelle’s. My project stems from this conceptual chasm between sixteenth-century and contemporary attitudes towards antiquities’ many possible manipulations, including forgeries, copies, replicas, and restorations. On a theoretical level, it aims to investigate the Renaissance attitude towards forgeries and manipulations by analysing the language and terminology used in archival documents and printed sources; on a practical level, it explores how contemporary museums and the Census of Antique Works of Art and Architecture Known in the Renaissance deal with early-modern restorations, reproductions, and fake specimens in their archaeological collections and database respectively.

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