London Museum Features Fake Art

A new art exhibit that combines X-rays and microscopy with Botticelli is on view at The National Gallery in London.

"Close Examination – Fakes, Mistakes & Discoveries" shows how scientists have unraveled some of the art world's mysteries, including uncovering fakes.

Among the more than 40 paintings on show is "The Virgin and Child with an Angel," which was acquired by The National Gallery in 1924 and attributed to Italian Renaissance painter Francesco Raibolini. A 2009 investigation unmasked the painting as a fake – underneath the paint, scientists found a drawing done in graphite pencil, which did not exist back in Renaissance times.

The exhibit also explores how paintings evolved over time.

"Woman at a Window," a 16th century work by an unknown Italian artist, was altered during the Victorian era, for instance, to be more modest. A blond women with a seductive gaze and a revealing bodice, was re-created as a more modestly dressed brunette with a reserved expression. When the gallery discovered the change during a cleaning in the late 1970s, restorers removed the newer layers of paint and gave the woman back her racy look.

While work by the scientists has revealed fakes, it has also discovered gems in work that was previously thought unimportant.

In the exhibit is a 15th-century painting, "Saint Francis of Assisi with Angels," that was thought to be painted by a pupil of the Italian master Sandro Botticelli. After cleaning and restoration in 2002, the gallery now attributes the painting to Botticelli himself.

Betsy Wieseman, co-curator of the exhibit, said such discoveries take time and careful examination, but are rewarding.

"You know it doesn't happen in an instant. It is a much slower process, but there often does come that moment when your heart goes pitter-pat, and you suddenly think 'Oh my goodness this is not what I thought it was going to be.'"

Other paintings thought to be by Botticelli have been proven otherwise (like the one in the photo, above).

Entry to The National Gallery is free. The exhibit runs until Sept. 12.

Photo, An Allegory, a Botticelli pretender, courtesy of The National Gallery, London
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