ideas + images

“Unearthing the Truth” in the Brooklyn Museum

Posted on: March 15, 2009


On display at the Brooklyn Museum: Frieze of Animals in Plant Scrolls. Egypt, possibly from Herakleopolis Magna, 4th century C.E. Limestone, traces of paint.

The Brooklyn Museum started to research an exhibition of Coptic and Pagan (worship of ancient Greco-Roman deities) sculpture and realized that eight of the selected pieces were actually forgeries. On the museum’s blog, curator Edna R. Russmann recounts the discovery:

Some of the forgeries appear to have been carved in pieces of stone that had been salvaged from destroyed antiquities. Others are fashioned in a very porous stone that would not have been used in ancient times; it has been suggested that these forgers thought the small natural holes would resemble ancient damage!

Unearthing the Truth: Egypt’s Pagan and Coptic Sculpture opened in mid-February, and judging from the exhibition comments online visitors have been pleasantly surprised by the museum’s transparency in displaying the forgeries alongside the ancient artifacts.

The museum also has an interesting feature on its website where you can test your ability to identify between Ancient, Near Ancient and Modern (i.e., fake) artifacts. However, I would have loved to first see a brief background on the distinguishing features of each time period to make the quiz more compelling (what should I notice in the materials? craftsmanship? depictions of human figures? religious motifs?). I understand the exhibit’s focus on authentic Coptic and Pagan pieces, but even a visual example of each of the three categories would help turn this online activity from a guessing game to a more meaningful memory/assessment game. (In the PDF teacher packet on the exhibition web site, there are two helpful examples of how to “read” an image and evaluate its authenticity. Also, cheers for including related activities in art, history, economics and science!)

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