#IslamicForgeries – Intro | Why are they fascinating?

Forgeries are bad. They are fake reproductions of an original object, made on purpose, to fool people. Museums, collectors and scholars feel sort of ashamed when they realise they have displayed, bought or studied a forgery they believed authentic.

It has been quite a long time I have been thinking about digging more into a topic sometimes despised, sometimes overlooked: forgeries in Islamic art.
When a scholar or researcher needs to decide which topic to study, forgeries are not the first in the list. In fact, they fall mostly at the bottom of the line.

Also, gathering materials is not that easy: museums and collectors are rarely happy to disclose the forgeries they have acquired or in some cases displayed (most of the time in good faith).

But fakes are valuable, in a way. Let me explain you my point.

CMA 82.23b
Back of a Tunic, 1950 (after) (originally thought Buyid), Cleveland Museum of Art, accession number 1982.23b

Fake: a definition

It’s neurological: we do not like fakes. As the specialist Dr Donna Yates explains during the online course Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crimes, when we are told that an artifact may be a fake, we experience that art in a totally different way, looking for signs of deceptions. “The possibility of art as being fake alters the intangible experience of that art and undermines the meaning of the piece.”
Nowadays the production of fake art objects is a crime only when it leads to an economic gain. If the objects are sold as authentic, it is a fraud, and as such an illegal activity.
In other words: if I copy an object of art for my personal pleasure, only because I like it, and keep it at home or give it as a present, no problems. If I start to copy art pieces, selling them as authentic, I am a criminal. As simple as that.

Forgeries and fakes have potentially appeared together with the art market and the very taste for art. Art history is full of these examples and the history of Islamic art is no exception.

Forgeries as a link between us and the past (and the past)

But forgeries can actually be seen as bearing some information: and if they are probably worthless for a collector, they are for doing some studying, at least.

A forgery produced today may seem worthless: as said before it does not have the artistic force of the original and it is made to fraud people. The fraud consists of making money most typically. But not only. A forged document, for instance, can be made not only for money, but also to obtain some political gain, and I use ‘political’ in its widest sense.
The choice of the original artifacts to be reproduced can be studied, together with the reason behind it, and the market the fake will enter. All these actually link the present, in a way, with the past context of the original object. The art piece is in a way re-interpreted and re-proposed in our times.

CMA 28.221
Fragment with Lion/Griffin Combat, 1459-1669 (originally believed Buyid) | Cleveland Museum of Art, accession number 1928.221

But there are also ‘historical forgeries’: fakes that had been produced maybe centuries ago and that survived ’till now. In some cases, they have been deemed authentic for long and only in the past few decades recognised as fakes. These pieces have the power to connect us directly with the ‘there-and-then’ art market or cultural-political situation. They can be studied on different levels: the tastes of the time, the art market, the knowledge of the original object, the techniques employed, the materials, the available sources…and the list can go on and on!

And they have another connection, linking us to a more remote past: that of the original art piece. Seen in this way, the fake object is permeated with different layers of information that link the period of its production to the past of the authentic object, but that also form a bridge between the now and here and the time and space where the fake was produced. All these strata are in a way a real treasure for those who want to study the evolution of the art market.

That is why I decided to move forward in the realm of the despised and neglected fakes trying to run in the following weeks a series of blogs over the fakes of Islamic Art, some relatively well known, and some much less famous (or notorious, some will think).

Let’s start now. Some research needs to be done.


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