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Art History (ARTH) 205: Science and the Detection of Art Forgeries
Online Course

Instructor Information

Chandra Reedy is a Professor in the Center for Historic Architecture and Design, and Director of the Laboratory for Analysis of Cultural Materials. She also has a joint appointment in the Department of Art History, where she teachers Art of Tibet. Prior to joining the University of Delaware faculty, she was a conservation scientist at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she participated in numerous authenticity studies. She still does occasional consulting identifying art forgeries for a variety of museums and cultural institutions.

Course Description

Focusing on a series of case studies, we will explore some basic scientific principles useful in the investigation of known or alleged art forgeries. Three major case studies will be examined in detail: the Getty kouros, an ancient (?) Greek marble sculpture; the Shroud of Turin; and the Han van Meegeren forgeries of Vermeer paintings.

We will discuss a variety of analytical techniques for the investigation of the authenticity of works of art. We will also explore the technological processes through which art objects are made, and the basic materials science which impacts on the object's appearance, structure, function, and deterioration. Although the primary focus of the course is the science content and the scientific approach to authenticity studies, we will include discussion of some related legal, philosophical, ethical, historical, and art historical issues.

Science content will be learned as needed in forgery investigations. Students will approach each case study as if they are charged with undertaking an actual scientific investigation for an institutional Board of Trustees, presenting all evidence, and arguing whether the preponderance of evidence is for or against authenticity. Each case study also has a tutorial, project, and/or virtual lab component that delves more in-depth into some aspects of science related to that case.

The course will include short lectures and required readings, supplemented by background material available on line. Much of the course material is accessed through information placed in Sakai through the Case Studies and their associated readings, in web-based materials accessed through links provided in the section on "Main Course Content Materials," through the Tutorials, and through the Assignments, and only partially through lectures. Active and on-time participation in all components of the course is expected.

Course Objectives

A major goal of this course is to provide a humanities-oriented forum for the study of a variety of basic scientific principles and analytical techniques. The course is intended to serve primarily students in the arts and humanities who have had little or no science background or affinity. Information and analytical techniques from chemistry, materials science, and geology will be applied to understanding and interpreting works of art. Scientific analysis provides information on the composition, structure, and physical properties of objects; it can help us identify how, when, and where objects were made, and how they might have been used; it can also provide insights into aesthetic intent. This information derived from scientific analysis often supports or refutes charges of art forgery.

Course Requirements

Assignments occur regularly throughout the semester. Please be prepared to put the appropriate effort into your reading, research, writing, and exam preparation. Students are expected to complete all required work on time. There will be NO "extra credit" allowed to make up for missed assignments or poor grades on assignments.

For each of the three case studies, a brief "position paper" is required, summarizing the scientific evidence for and against authenticity, and indicating whether the preponderance of evidence supports or refutes authenticity. These summaries must incorporate material from lectures and from required readings; each of the three reports will contribute 15 points towards the final grade. Reports should be turned in using the Sakai Assignment Tool.

There is also a shorter project that will require observation of an actual work of art or architecture made of stone and which will result in a written report, also turned in using the Sakai Assignment Tool. The stone project will contribute 10 points towards the final grade.

Some additional tutorials do not require a written report, but information contained in them may appear on the exams. Two mid-term exams and a final exam (all non-cumulative) will contribute 15 points each to the final grade.