Census x Hertziana x Warburg Fellow: Barbara Furlotti

20. Januar 2024

Between January and June 2024 Barbara Furlotti will be conduc­ting rese­arch in Berlin, Rome and London as a Census x Hertziana x Warburg fellow. The fellow­ship was first inau­gu­rated as a part­ner­ship between the Census and the Hertziana in 2022, and expanded in 2023 to include the Warburg Insti­tute as well.

Dr Barbara Furlotti is Asso­ciate Lecturer at The Cour­t­auld. She has received inter­na­tional fellow­ships in Europe and the US, inclu­ding the Getty Resi­den­tial Fellow­ship (2009–2010) and the Marie Curie Fellow­ship (2012–2015), and has contri­buted to nume­rous rese­arch projects. She has published exten­si­vely on the history of coll­ec­ting, espe­ci­ally in rela­tion to Mantua and Rome, the art market in the early modern period, and anti­qua­ria­nism. Her most recent book, Anti­qui­ties in Motion: From Excava­tion Sites to Renais­sance Coll­ec­tions (Getty Publi­ca­tions, 2019) inves­ti­gates the mecha­nisms of the market for anti­qui­ties in sixte­enth-century Italy. Recently, she has co–curated the exhi­bi­tions ‘Giulio Romano: Art and Desire’ (Mantua, 2019–2020) and ‘Giulio Romano: the Power of Things’ (Mantua, 2022–2023).

Census x Hertziana x Warburg Project: True Lies: Resto­ra­tions, Repro­duc­tions, and Fake Antiquities

In his Discorsi sopra le meda­glie degli antichi (1555), Enea Vico addresses the problem of false antique coins by iden­ti­fying three cate­go­ries of forge­ries: the ‘fully ancient’ deceits, obtained by either heavily rewor­king ancient coins or pasting two of them toge­ther; the ‘parti­ally ancient’ frauds, made with old metal struck with modern dies; and the ‘comple­tely modern’ coins, cast with new metal. Compared to Vico’s subtle clas­si­fi­ca­tion, the defi­ni­tion of forgery provided by the Oxford English Dictionary – ‘The making of a thing in frau­du­lent imita­tion of some­thing’ – sounds simpli­stic and tainted by moral judge­ment. Contem­po­rary binary descrip­tors, such as prototype/replica and original/fake, also exem­plify our diffi­cul­ties in gras­ping Renaissance’s more nuanced approach to forge­ries and mani­pu­lated antique pieces.

My project stems from this concep­tual chams. It aims to answer ques­tions regar­ding the impact that Renais­sance resto­ra­tion prac­tices had on the recep­tion of anti­qui­ties, and the role played by forgers and anti­qua­rians in disse­mi­na­ting alter­na­tive versions of the past. As such, it will hopefully help rethin­king how to present fake anti­qui­ties in the Census data­base. My rese­arch also inves­ti­gates the mate­rial and prac­tical aspects of early modern resto­ra­tions and forge­ries by recon­s­truc­ting how they were carried out, with what mate­rials and tools, by whom, and why.

In general, art histo­rians have been reluc­tant to engage with the issue of fake anti­qui­ties, and for good reasons: only a handful of early modern forge­ries are well-docu­mented, while most of the works that we now suspect were created as repro­duc­tions or fakes lack enough docu­men­ta­tion; simi­larly, it is hard to substan­tiate the many complaints about anti­qua­rian forge­ries and forgers found in primary sources with survi­ving mate­rial evidence. Moreover, fake anti­qui­ties could be created from scratch, as explained by Vico, or assem­bled using original and newly sculpted parts, a prac­tice that, to our eyes, blurs the line between resto­ra­tion and forgery. To further compli­cate the situa­tion, artists and anti­qua­rians were often complicit in crea­ting forge­ries to meet the incre­asing demand for ancient finds from all over Europe, but also in response to intellec­tual discus­sions and to support ideas other­wise impos­sible to verify. By taking all these aspects into account, my project looks at repro­duc­tions, altera­tions and forge­ries of anti­qui­ties not as deplo­rable second-class works created ‘in order to deceive people’, but as crucial evidence of the mate­rial, tech­nical and anti­qua­rian know­ledge that artists and anti­qua­rians shared in the early modern period.