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This Ancient Egyptian Masterpiece Might Be Fake

“Egypt’s Mona Lisa” is likely a sham

(Werner Forman/Werner Forman/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

The “Meidum Geese”—an ancient Egyptian painting prized for its detail—has been called “Egypt’s Mona Lisa.” It was supposedly painted somewhere between 2610 and 2590 B.C. and found in the tomb of Pharaoh Nefermaat. But it could be nothing more than an elaborate forgery.

A researcher claims that the piece was actually painted during the 19th century, reports Owen Jarus for LiveScience. After months of study, archaeologist Francesco Tiradritti has concluded that the painting, which gained fame for its symmetry and quality, is a fake.

Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

“Doubting the authenticity of a masterpiece seems almost impossible and it is a mentally painful process,” Tiadritti told Jarus. The art expert first began to doubt the painting’s veracity after realizing that it contained images of birds unlikely to have been in Egypt at all, Jarus says. And once he began to harbor doubts about the painting, Tiadritti wrote, he began to see other inconsistencies—unusual symmetry, colors not usually used by ancient Egyptian artists and hints that the geese were painted over another painting.

Tiadritti also discovered another anomaly—a mark on another painting supposedly discovered by Egyptologist Luigi Vassalli that could give away the forgery:

While investigating remains from the Atet Chapel, Tiradritti noticed a fragment of painting that Vassalli supposedly found. It was painted with an image of a vulture and a basket. These two signs have meanings in Egypt's hieroglyphic language that spell the initials for Vassalli’s second wife Gigliati Angiola.

Tiradritti wrote that the “basket can be read as a ‘G,’ while the vulture corresponds to an ‘A,’ giving room to the hypothesis that they have to be interpreted as a monogram.”

Jarus notes that the publication of Tiadritti’s findings will likely lead to “noninvasive analysis” that will establish the veracity of his claims once and for all. Tiadritti tells LiveScience that he wants scholars to “think more critically about ancient art.” And it turns out that it’s not really that hard to persuade people that a piece of art is more than what it seems. Recently, a group of pranksters convinced art experts that a painting was worth €2.5 million. The only problem? It was a cheap generic print from IKEA.

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