Michelangelo the forger

February 11 2014

Image of Michelangelo the forger

Picture: Metropolitan Museum

The Independent has picked up on a paper given at last weekend's View art history festival in London, on Michelangelo. French art historian Thierry Lenain explored Michelangelo's apparent penchant for forgery, and even theft:

According to Mr Lenain, author of Art Forgery: The History of the Modern Obsession, the Italian frequently forged artworks in order to obtain the originals from their owners by giving them the copies. On one occasion, Michelangelo made a painted copy of a print representing Saint Anthony by the engraver Martin Schongauer, making his version so similar to the original it was impossible to tell which one was which.

Speaking at the VIEW festival of art history, Mr Lenain said: “He admired these originals for the excellence of their art and sought to surpass them.”

This is not the first time rumours of the artist’s forgeries have emerged. One anecdote describes how in 1496 a young Michelangelo copied a Roman sculpture, Sleeping Cupid. He buried it in the ground to give it the various stains, scratches and dents needed to make it look like a genuine antique. He then used a middleman to sell the piece to Cardinal Riario for a substantial sum.

I wonder what the Chagall Committee would make of a Michelangelo forgery, though. By their logic, all such things should be burnt.

Update - a reader writes:

The allegations regarding Michaelangelo emphasize the point that "fakes" are originals by the faker or copyist and may be by a very good or great artist.  Selling them as being by another artist is, if course, fraud.  However, if Michaelangelo's early fraud were detected and prosecuted we wouldn't have his sculptures of David and Moses, or his Sistine Chapel frescoes.

The Chagall Committee is based on the same sort of tunnel vision logic that led to the fall of France 74 years ago.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.