Fakes, Forgeries, and Fraud in Art History

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
June 17, 2019 - June 28, 20196/17 - 6/28M-F 8:30A-11:20AOpenEmily Monty

Course Description

Convincing fakes and forgeries have misled even the most expert viewers, raising important questions about how artistic deceit has shaped the history of art. Focusing on a series of case studies spanning the globe, and ranging from pre-history to the present, this course develops skills in art historical inquiry, including visual and technical analysis, to consider fakes and forgeries in their historical and theoretical contexts.

Practicing connoisseurship and scientific analysis alongside secondary research, we will imagine ourselves in the various roles of art historian, curator, conservator, art collector, and viewer. We will explore how ideas of authenticity and originality are dependent on theoretical models that vary according to time, place, and culture. As we consider the relativity of these ideas, we will discuss theories of knowledge, certainty, and truth that shape the history of art as it has been written and continues to unfold today. We will practice research skills, critical thinking, and debate as we weigh and interpret information to form our own opinions about contentious works of art and their aesthetic and cultural value. Texts written by artists, art historians, and conservators will guide our investigations, as will accounts by famous forgers who ultimately unveiled their secrets, either to proclaim their virtuosity or under the force of law.

Course activities include a visit to the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology and the RISD Museum of Art, where we will meet with curators and conservators and examine original works of art. These visits will explore how questions of authenticity and originality shape decisions in acquisition, conservation, and display. They will also provide object-based training, which will be particularly useful for students interested in pursuing original research, conservation, or museum studies.

In-class activities and assignments will emphasize research skills, critical thinking, and debate. Participation will be weighed heavily and collaboration will be emphasized. Homework will include reading, written reflections, and group work. The course will culminate in a debate in which students will consider the authenticity of a contentious work of art. They will present arguments for the affirmative or negative based on original research using visual, technical, and stylistic analysis, as well as information gathered from museum curatorial files.

Students will develop a vocabulary for describing works of art, learn to assess and interpret visual, technical, and historical evidence, become a critical reader of secondary sources, and create arguments presenting convincing and coherent opinions in verbal and written form. The case studies surveyed in the course range in geography and time period with the goal of preparing students for further study in art history. The research and presentation skills developed here will equip students for college-level coursework both within and outside of the humanities.

Prerequisites: None. Open to all.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEHA0916
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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