Forgeries, Copies, and Casts

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FORGERIES, COPIES, AND CASTS. Two contemporary accounts illustrate the growing awareness of the issues circulating around forgeries and copies in the sixteenth century. In the first, Michelangelo's (14751564) life-size marble of a sleeping Cupid is described in 1553 by his biographer, Ascanio Condivi, as being deliberately treated in order to make it pass as ancient and sold as such in Rome to Cardinal Riario. The second was recounted by Giorgio Vasari some thirty years later. Loath to surrender Raphael's (14831520) portrait of Leo X and his nephews (Palazzo Pitti, Florence), Ottaviano de' Medici had Andrea del Sarto (14861530) paint a copy right down to the stains on the back of the canvas; it was so convincing that Raphael's own student, Giulio Romano (c. 14991546), was deceived (Museo del Capodimonte, Naples). Since forgery, as the intent to deceive, necessarily pertains to what is of value at a particular time, these two examples signal an expansion of a specific kind during the sixteenth century. The youthful Michelangelo's Cupid would have been desirable precisely because it was thought to be ancient. By the time Andrea del Sarto copied Raphael's painting, however, the conception of the modern artist, in which Michelangelo was seminal, had come into play, giving the work of contemporary artists a new kind of worth. Consequently, even an artist's name was worth forging and also protecting, as may be seen from the suit Albrecht Dürer (14711528) is said to have brought against Marcantonio Raimondi (c. 1480c. 1534) for copying not only his prints but also his monogram. In the seventeenth century the forging of antiquities, paintings, and prints, as well as signatures, by which the existing paintings of lesser artists could be elevated to more sought-after ones, were all to be found.

Similar values underlie casts and copies. Since "an essential aspect of modernity, as Italy conceived it, lay in antiquity" (Haskell and Penny), its dissemination became imperative. Books and prints facilitated this end, but casts played the major role. Although known in antiquity and described in the fourteenth century in Cennino Cennini's craftsman's handbook (c. 1390), the pivotal importance of casts largely begins with Francesco Primaticcio (15041570). Born in Bologna, Primaticcio was working at the court of Francis I when he was sent to Rome about 1540 to draw and purchase antiquities for the palace at Fontainebleau. While there, he also made casts of important ancient sculptures, which were transported to France and cast in bronze. These established a precedent (even through the reproduction of the molds themselves) for royalty throughout Europe, for whom the imperial connotations of ancient Rome and the cultural domination of the contemporary capital held equal sway. A further result of this development was the establishment of a limited number of clearly recognizable works that came to serve as a canon for both artists and the development of taste. Innumerable copies and variations of these works, made large and small, carved in marble, cast in metal, and translated into media as diverse as ceramic and porcelain, were ubiquitous throughout the eighteenth century and beyond.

Casts also were fundamental to the education of artists. Leon Battista Alberti (14041472) had already recommended that students learn to draw by copying sculpture, and Giovanni Battista Armenini (c. 15251609) recommended that they draw from casts of the most famous ancient works. Ideally this would occur before they began studying from life to ensure that they had acquired the judgment necessary to deal with nature. The practice, however, was institutionalized only slowly, even by the French, who gradually amassed an enormous collection of casts at their academy in Rome that eventually superseded the antiquities themselves as models to draw.

If casts represent the dissemination of the antique in the early modern period, copies demonstrate the growing stature of contemporary artists. It is true that copies of works of art filled various roles. Many served the desire for particular subjects (paintings of the Madonna, for example, or the effigies of the fashionable and famous), and copying works by the masters or others had long been and continued to be an important part of artistic training. Sometimes, as in the case of such artists as Peter Paul Rubens (15771640), who made copies throughout his life, the works have been called "creative copies," because rather than being exact, they bear the mark of his artistic personality. However, as inventories of the period unmistakably document, copies, as stand-ins for the work of admired artists, were made in increasing numbers over the course of the sixteenth century. These were produced by the artist himself (replicas) or his assistants, by other artists, as well as by ranks of professional copyists. Techniques to facilitate the production of copies included the tracing of finished pictures, and the results of the increased accuracy are often the connoisseurship problems of today.

See also Art: The Art Market and Collecting .


Bauer, Linda Freeman. "A Letter by Barocci and the Tracing of Finished Pictures." Burlington Magazine 130 (1986): 355357.

Haskell, Francis, and Nicholas Penny. Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture. New Haven and London, 1987.

Jones, Mark, ed. Why Fakes Matter: Essays on the Problems of Authenticity. London, 1992.

Jones, Mark, Paul Craddock, and Nicolas Barker, eds. Fake? The Art of Deception. London, 1990.

Kurz, Otto. Fakes. 2nd rev. ed. New York, 1967.

Postle, Martin. "Naked Authority? Reproducing Antique Statuary in the English Academy, from Lely to Haydon." In Sculpture and Its Reproductions, edited by A. Hughes and E. Ranfft, pp. 7999. London, 1997.

Preciado, Kathleen, ed. Retaining the Original: Multiple Originals, Copies, and Reproductions. Studies in the History of Art 20. Washington, D.C., 1989.

Wood, Jeremy. "Raphael Copies and Exemplary Picture Galleries in Mid Eighteenth-Century London." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 62 (1999): 394417.

Linda Bauer