Forgers, connoisseurs, and the Nazi past

Roodt, C. (2015) Forgers, connoisseurs, and the Nazi past. Journal of Information Ethics, 24(2), pp. 43-62.

108301.pdf - Accepted Version



The authentication and accurate attribution of art can be a complex issue. Connoisseurship and ethics, politics and the media can get mixed in among the "active ingredients" that can obstruct efforts to correct scholarly misattribution in the sense of having mistaken the work for that of a master. The expertise of forgers Han van Meegeren and Wolfgang Beltracchi went way beyond artistic skill, technical skill, extensive knowledge of art history and the methods employed by the true masters. The connoisseurs who supplied the authentications were giving and receiving something in return, and this caused the ethical lines to blur. Political opportunism enabled van Meegeren to hide his sympathy for the Volkgeist conventions of Nazi art with a clever plot device by which he could demonstrate that he had conned a member of the Nazi elite. The Beltracchis concocted the history of production of a hitherto unknown number of modern art works by linking the fake provenances to pre-packaged narratives that invoked the most sordid elements of the cultural policy of the Third Reich. At their trials, the forgers assumed the role of "masters of ceremonies" who entertained the court staff and spectators. Unsurprisingly, the media conferred folk hero status on them. This article highlights the uncanny parallels and patterns in the art forgery careers of these two forgers, and specifically also in the misattribution of their forged works. Considering how intricate the interdependencies between evidence and beliefs can be, the ethical responsibility of the art trade when forgeries are sold comes into question. More scientific testing continues to expose some of the secrets of master forgers, but no forgery trial, law report, or media report can completely de-contaminate art history. The relevance of information ethics to the study of art history and material culture deserves to be highlighted more frequently.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Roodt, Dr Christa
Authors: Roodt, C.
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Journal Name:Journal of Information Ethics
Publisher:McFarland & Company, Inc
ISSN (Online):1941-2894
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2015 McFarland & Company, Inc
First Published:First published in Journal of Information Ethics 24(2):43-62
Publisher Policy:Reproduced with the permission of the publisher.

University Staff: Request a correction | Enlighten Editors: Update this record