Thursday, 17 July 2008

Fake Coptic art in the Brooklyn Museum


Edna Russmann, a curator at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, has said that about one third of the museum's Coptic art — early Christian Egyptian art — collection is fake, the Independent reports. Although chemical testing on the works has not yet been completed, Russmann said she is fairly certain that 10 to 30 of the pieces are fake and that about half of the remaining objects have likely been recarved or retouched.

Russmann says she began to have doubts about the collection four years ago. According to the Art Newspaper, which first reported the story, Baltimore-based Byzantine specialist Gary Vikan first noted the possibility of fakes in the collection in the early 1970s but never went public with the concern.

The Independent, UK

Although some chemical testing on the works has yet to be completed, Dr Russmann
considers that 10 of the 30 examples of Coptic art – Christian imagery in limestone from Egypt dating between the late fourth century and AD641 – held by the museum are phoney. Moreover, about half the other pieces have probably been extensively recarved and retouched.

Part of the purpose of the exhibition will be to alert other US institutions to the possibility that they too have fake pieces in their collections. "There are lot of museums in this country that have maybe two or three or four pieces," she said.

New York Sun

Doubts about the Brooklyn Museum's sculptures date back at least to 1977, when a Byzantine art scholar who is now the director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Gary Vikan, argued that they were forgeries in a lecture he delivered at Columbia.But if the existence of the fakes is old news, where and by whom they were made remain mysterious.
According to a 2001 article by a former curator at the Brooklyn Museum, Donald Spanel, a large number of fakes appeared on the market beginning in the late 1950s, offered by dealers mostly in Switzerland and in New York. One New York dealer, Jerome Eisenberg, acknowledged in a phone interview that he had sold the museum one piece now considered to be fake, a roundel with a border of palm fronds and a central bust. The museum acquired the piece in 1960.
Asked where he bought the roundel, Mr. Eisenberg said that he purchased it from a "very reliable, very ethical" dealer in Cairo, a Copt named Kamel Hammouda. Asked if he knew where Mr. Hammouda got the sculpture, Mr. Eisenberg said that it was against the rules of the trade at the time to ask such questions.

See the above links for the full stories

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