Seeking Truth: Fakes, Forgeries, and Fraud in Art History

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Course registration will be available for this course once it is scheduled.

Course Description

How do we define authenticity? Throughout the ages, fakes and forgeries have challenged even the most discerning eye. This course explores the debates and contentious works of art that have shaped art history. Questions like, "what makes something a fake?" are often open to interpretation. Answers may change based on one's interests, culture, or place in history. In order to develop an historical framework for approaching this question, you will practice research skills, critical thinking, and debate using a variety of works of art and forgeries as case studies.

This course will help students become discerning consumers of information by introducing techniques for weighing and interpreting knowledge. In order to ask questions about artistic deceit, we must first establish criteria for defining authenticity. The course therefore introduces students to the objectivity of historical study, helping them to form a basis for inquiry through a series of case studies ranging from cave paintings to modern art. Students will learn how ideas of authenticity have changed over time, looking specifically at the practices of copying and reproduction in painting, sculpture, and print.

Students will be introduced to three basic tools of art historical inquiry - connoisseurship, primary source texts, and scientific analysis. They will read documents written by artists and theorists, scholarship by conservators conducting scientific analysis of works of art, and texts on connoisseurship, or the practice of discerning the artist and date of a work of art based on visual properties alone. Students will also be introduced to theories about knowledge, ranging from Aristotle to Descartes, in order to explore truth as a philosophical concept.

The course includes visits to the Museum of Art at RISD to meet with a number of staff, including curators and conservators. These visits are meant to teach students how museum professionals approach questions of authenticity.

The course will culminate in group presentations that ask students to recall and apply concepts learned in reading assignments and through classroom instruction. Students will select and investigate a case of artistic fraud, focusing on the particular techniques used by the artist to create a sense of authenticity in the work of art.

By encouraging students to test the validity of sources and become discerning consumers of information both in and out of the academy, the course prepares students to investigate problems that matter to them. The broad selection of case studies surveyed in the course will provide a basis for students planning to take a college-level course in art history, while the peer-review, presentation, and research skills developed will equip them for coursework within and outside of the humanities.

Prerequisites: No prerequisites; open to all.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEHA0916
  • Length: 1 week

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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