Question of the Week is a series inspired by our Masterpiece of the Week tours, offered daily at 4:00 p.m. Featuring an open and upbeat discussion among visitors and gallery teachers, the tours feature a new object and pose a new question each week.
What is fake? What is real? Who decides?
Copies and forgeries of art have been around since, frankly, art. The Romans copied Greek originals. The infamous Han van Meegeren forged the paintings of Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals.
This elaborately carved French Renaissance-style cabinet was purchased in 1971 by J. Paul Getty against the advice of his curators, who thought it was a fake from the 19th century. The piece was relegated to storage for years.
But knowledge, even in a museum, changes over time. In 2001, one of our curators launched a re-examination. Through close visual analysis, as well as carbon dating and dendrochronology, the cabinet was declared to be—mostly—genuine, dating to 1580. See how conservators, curators, and scientists worked their magic in the video below.
To scholars, knowing an object’s true date is key to understanding it. But what about you? Does knowing that this beautiful cabinet is from 1580—as opposed to 1880—make you look at it differently? If so, why?
And does the museum’s stamp of approval make you appreciate this amazing work more? After all, it’s the same object either way.