Authentication and art forgery


As most of the museums of the country and even the owners of artistic collections face the problem of fake and forged artefacts, it is of great importance for the history of the country to deal with the crisis of forgeries and fake artifacts and their related problems to gain an accurate understanding about the past events based on the authentic artifacts. Museums, collections and centers dedicated to preservation of these properties in Iran have not sustained serious damages since they used to get most of their items through archeological excavations or they were awarded as trusted items in the past. However, nowadays a serious destructive element is threatening the culture and history of our country which is the forgery of ancient properties dating back to some 100 to 150 years ago. Being confiscated from the robber and forgers, these artefacts find their ways into museums and consequently some concerns shall emerge in terms of their coexistence with authentic artefacts at museums since it would jeopardize the authenticity of these original items. As long as these items are not recognized as the fake ones, they are considered as the original ones. Hence, precise identification of these fake items and distinguishing original artefacts from the fake ones prior to their entrance into museums through scientific and laboratory studies is of great importance.

In the Persian language, authenticity could signify numerous philosophical concepts. Translators of philosophical texts have used some terms as equivalents for authenticity. These terms contain the meaning of originality, the first and original version of an artefact or the work which is valuable and reliable. Probably, one can base his interpretation of the authenticity of an artefact on the conditions specified in the 1974 Cultural Heritage Convention which explains requirements for categorizing any artefact as an authentic or original one. These conditions include authenticity in design, authenticity in materials, authenticity in the manner of construction and authenticity in the surrounding environment. These requirements should be met to consider an artefact as an authentic one. According to these conditions, authentication means precise recognition and distinction of authentic artefacts from the fake ones by making use of laboratory and scientific studies.

Auditing an artifact for specification of its authenticity means reviewing and identifying the artifact through various means such as identifying the style of the artifacts, dating, identifying the author (his signature), and last but not the least, analyzing materials and techniques used in the object by scientific experiments. An expert of authentication of artifacts, examines them and issues a certificate whereby he explains the techniques in the artifact, its conservation status, its being fake or authentic, its age, its date, a comprehensive report about is origins and laboratory methods used for its authentication and identification. Through scientific reviews, one can gain information about accurate methods of prolonging the life shell of an artifact. An artifact can express his artistic message provided that his material existence is guaranteed and this prerequisite is related to its chemical and physical structure. Accordingly, disciplines such as chemistry and similar disciplines that deal with the materials can contribute a lot to gain some deep understanding and knowledge about artifacts, i.e., understanding the nature of their materials. Reviewing different criteria dedicated to authentication of historical items has proven that specifying criteria would gradually result in confinement of the scope of activities to measures specified by the criteria.

Material integrity of artifacts: an authenticity criterion

The Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites drawn up in 1964 was a turning point for conservation procedures of historic items. Structural integrity and theoretical cohesion are the strengths of this document. Out of 23 individuals involved in drafting the Charter, 20 were Europeans. Content analysis of the Venice Charter indicates that it was greatly influenced by ideas of Cesare Brandi. The material integrity is a criterion recommended by the Venice Charter for assessing observance of authenticity in conservation measures.

Emphasizing the material integrity of a historical artifact takes root in paying attention to the material embodiment of non-repeatable moment of personal intuition and creativity. Irrespective of social traditions, the personal choice of an artist is an epistemological element which is of enormous importance in conservation measures. Conservation of artefacts based on this approach requires direct transfer and presentation of them without any intervention or interpretation about them by the conservator, even if he himself is the author the artifact.

Form as a criterion for authenticity replaces the material integrity

Imitation of forms has been one of the Aristotelian methods of teaching arts. This method focuses on preservation of forms even at the cost of reconstruction or intervention in the material structures of the work. This method has gained special place in the European history of conservation. The difference of two views namely focusing on the conservation of materials on the one hand and conservation of forms on the other hand, emanates from two contrasting views about time and date. According to the form-based view, time is a cycle from the birth of a material to its death during which the form is preserved as a transcendental intact truth. However, the other view looks at the time as an irreversible linear movement from the birth to the death and describes the cyclic view of time as an outdated view.

Old views on authenticity

Various formulations have frequently been expressed about the material integrity and form preservation for the sake of authenticity in the literature of restoration. These views have mainly been presented in historical societies. Interestingly, these criteria have reemerged in late modernist and post-modernist views on conservation of artifacts.

Continuity of application: an authenticity criterion

One of the criticisms raised against Brandis’ theory is his lack of attention to the application of the artifacts. In lots of ancient civilizations, beautiful objects enjoyed important status in rituals. Therefore, their analysis helps us gain new understanding of the space. Cooperation between indigenous people of North America with museums in terms of borrowed ownership of ritual objects is an example of accepting the reality that applications of objects guarantee some aspects of their sustainability and validity in spite of threatening the integrity of their composing materials. The Carper-washing ritual in Mashad Ardehal is one example of these applications. Carpets are preserved in a very meticulous manner during the year and they are washed during certain days in a ritual religious ceremony and accordingly they get ritual application.

Stability of symbolic values

The present building of Fantoft Stave Church in Norway is the outcome of its complete reconstruction in 1995. Its wooden structure was set on fire by arsonists. In its revival, all the details of the church were reconstructed. It was undertaken due to the symbolic value of the monument. During the imposed war (Iran-Iraq war in 1980’s), some of the historical mosques of Isfahan sustained damages which were reconstructed later. Reconstruction of decorations in these mosques is a symbol of resistance and cultural fortitude of a nation. These monuments and artifacts are prominent items in every territory but they are limited.

Reproduction of artifacts or inclination towards their well-preservation

Continuous reconstruction and reproduction of the physical body of the Ise Grand Shrine in Japan is undertaken under the name of preserving the spiritual purity of the setting. The temple is reconstructed in a 20-year intervals. In every reconstruction, some 1,300 trees are cut which are chosen from the best and oldest ones. Artisans perform religious ablutions and wear clothes made of natural fibers. If drops of bloods fall from bodies of workers on woods, the task would be null and void and the contaminated wood is replaced with another one. Purification, cleaning and removing dust from holy shrines in Iran is another example of this approach which has been referred to by Rigel as the value of novelty compared to the value of antiquity.

Continuity of environmental action

Both in ancient times and in the late modern art, the artistic work has not been looked as the product and action of the artists but also the product of the action of the setting and the material, too. The authenticity has been looked as the natural gradual erosion of the artifact. Joseph Beuys made use of dramatically different materials such as fat in his artistic works. Having seen the gradual decay of these artifacts in the Tate Modern gallery in London, one observer had asserted that these process occurred in an autonomous fashion and everything was changing.

Some Iranian artists belief that if an artifact survives damages of winds and rains, this fortitude denotes to the honest intention of its creator and it is regarded as a positive sign. However, reference to some beautiful but unstable creations such as flowers and imaginary clouds can be seen in Iranian literature.

Technical continuity: an authenticity criterion in East Asia

Techniques used for creation of artistic works are like the appropriate containers for emergence of continuous beliefs in these artefacts. As the founder of the movement of reviving handicrafts, William Morris emphasized the real value of the creative work made by hands. Half a century before adoption of the International ‌Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, techniques for conservation of historical artifacts were practiced in Japan as a category for inscription of cultural heritage. This category refers to artisans or traditional workshops that transmit a collection of techniques related to Japanese architecture from one generation to another one in an oral fashion. Sustainability of Japanese indigenous architecture that is essentially comprised of vulnerable wooden structures depends of the constant care and maintenance offered by relevant artisans. A research conducted by Sekinou about the age of the wooden pieces and their hollow distribution in Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji area in Japan revealed that the eight-century monument has preserved more than half of its original historical items while it had been overhauled seven times prior to the date of this research. Out of seven overhauls, three times the monument had been completely dismantled, reconstructed and redecorated. Larsen and Sekinou believed that it was not possible to preserve this wooden monument for more than a thousand years without a planned and organized operation. Dismantling and redecoration of these structures have been conducted in a period over than 400 years. Some further repairs have been conducted but they have been limited and they have done their best to make the maximum use of the well-preserved parts. Therefore, one can understand that preservation of the structure of the monument and its original materials have even been more important that education and transfer of building technologies.

Continuity of culture of indigenous creation as a manifestation of essential movement in the course of time

In the process of conservation and restoration, not only the transient and individual aspects of the social life are paid attention to, but also one can take into consideration the indigenous life styles as a topic of rehabilitation, revival and conservation. Criteria such as authenticity of materials and/or forms evaluates the location of an artifact compared to a special historical moment. Changes in these features that transpire in the course of time can be acceptable provided that they occur as the natural erosion process. According to Mansoor Falamaki restoration is the transfer of an object to a dynamic equilibrium rather that its stability at current situation. Referring to the role of architectural works in re-identification of cultures, he believes that any historical monument presents a particular environmental behavior to its audience that is emanated from the indigenous values.

Due to their materials, some of Iranian artifacts need continuous maintenance and repairs since their early creation. Absence of technical stability in the process of maintaining countless cases of historical artifacts such as repairing the glazed bricks of Susa during the Achaemenide rule or the frequent use of adobes and bricks interchangeably in the repairs and development of the Great Square of Isfahan since the Safavid ear up to now, confirm the absence of identity stability. However, there has been a cultural and epistemological continuity in these monuments which is one of the main features of Iranian art and architecture. Therefore, assessing authenticity particularly on the rehabilitation of urban contexts, rural spaces and the cultural heritage that enjoy dynamic life requires new measures that takes into account intervention made in the historical body of the monument rather than its stabilization nor copying from the past.

Necessity of representation of objective manifestation of cultural continuity in artistic creation

Mentioning some examples of the experiences of development of historical textures of Isfahan could be useful for proposing elements about the overlap of concepts related to time and movement in the transcendent theosophy and the process of assessing the authenticity. In analyzing the developments in the historical texture of Isfahan during the Safavid era, Bagher Ayatolahizade Shirazi has asserted that events transpired for designing the city over this period sacrificed some valuable parts of the city remaining from the Seljuk ear, however, it not only did not result in ruining the authenticity of the city, but also contributed to its preservation and elevation as an authentic Iranian city. According to Shirazi, there are two reasons contributing to this success as follows:

  • Some elements of the old parts of the city such as the great mosque were reconstructed and decorated in a way to continue their roles and function as a documentary for the pre-Safavid identity of the city.
  • The development of the city was not based on the old central areas rather it was founded on some new areas. Consequently, the new parts not only strengthened the old texture of the city, but also defined their urban identity in relationship to the ole parts.

Similar approach can be seen not only about a city but also about a collection of diverse historical experiences of preserving cultural heritage in Iran such as the repairs in historical mosques conducted according to the old values or formation of new forms of a tilework picture.

Specifying authenticity of historical photos

Iran is one of the few countries that took some steps in the field of photography in the 19th century, within three years of its invention in the French academy of science. Photographs are recognized as valuable and effective historical documents. In light of the importance of photographs, if they are identified and/or presented wrong, it might lead to distorting researches and historical results. Some profiteers have forged photographs for material, political and religious reasons from the 19th century until the current modern digital age.

Identifying the ‌ features of the patina in authenticating alloys of ancient coppers

Studying and understanding historical and ancient artifacts are important to the specialists in the fields of art, anthrophony, conservation and restoration. Making use of precise scientific methods, these experts gain an appropriate understanding of authenticity, culture and technology of the past. Results of these studies could lead to the better preservation of these artefacts. One of the important aspects of identifying the authenticity of historical and ancient artefacts is analyzing the patina layer from the structural and chemical perspectives. Studying the patina layer in the ancient copper alloys by means of microscopic and micro-analytical methods can result in recognizing the chemical and sub-structural identity of corrosion layers found in the patina. Results of some studies have shown that the patina and corrosion layers in the ancient copper alloys have diverse characteristics including specific corrosion such as the selective solution of copper and internal oxidation of tin, preservation of the main surface, the internal corrosion in the metallic structure under the patina layer, formation of diverse mineral compositions of copper in relation to the setting of the artifact, formation of layer structures related to phenomenon such as liesegang rings and superficial features of the patina and corrosion layers. It is worth mentioning that recognizing the identity of the patina and corrosion layers in the ancient copper alloys can give specialists and conservators a correct understanding of the authenticity of these artifacts and provide the opportunity for comparing the authentic artifacts with the items of unknown origins.