What do nuclear bombs, the world’s best tricksters, and Van Gogh have in common? Well, in a chain of events that most of us would overlook, nuclear bombs have become a key witness in stopping some of the best art forgers in the world!
How is this possible?! Well, if you like mystery, science, art, or just a good ole tale of intrigue, I’ve got just the story for you!
The forensics of forgeries!
Since the time of the Romans, people have been passing off modern works as ancient artifacts and priceless pieces. Along the way, those tasked with sniffing out these nefarious forgers had little to go on but their senses and know-how. Was that Vermeer that turned up real or a clever fake? Was that statue a genuine Greek masterpiece or a modern marble from this era?
Sometimes, collectors and art historians guessed right. But a lot of the time, they shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars on pieces so skillfully forged they couldn’t be detected!
Surely, it mustn’t be so hard to determine if a painting was made in 1950 instead of 1750? Right?
Well, these cunning forgers have come up with ways of aging paintings! Using chemicals, cookware, and careful brushstrokes, they can make something painted now appear as if it was created in an entirely other time. These tactics are so clever and believable that we now have to turn to some seriously high tech solutions to sniff out the world’s greatest fakes.
Using science that you’d expect to see at a crime scene (or at least a very sophisticated scientific lab), pieces of art that have perplexed historians are going under x-rays, being analyzed with carbon dating, and even having their atomic fingerprints taken. Oh yeah—this is where the bombs come in.
Here’s Joe Hanson of It’s Okay To Be Smart to let us in on how these mysteries are solved!1
If you want more science content that will leave you feeling like the smartest person in the room, check out the It’s Okay To Be Smart YouTube channel. It’s one of our favorites, and it’s sure to have a video (or seven) that will leave you saying “Wow!”
When science (history) and art collide!
Hidden paintings under Van Gogh’s? Carbon dating? Nuclear bombs?! I certainly never knew that art history could be so…scientific. But that’s the thing when you dig a little deeper into most subjects—you’re bound to find something new that piques your curiosity.
Perhaps these stories of forgeries are a great example of what happens when we allow ourselves to explore these new paths of intrigue!
I might be the rare person who is already fascinated by stuffy old paintings, but even my fascination with art history is reinvigorated with a good story of international scandals and art forgery heists.
Our world becomes so much richer when we allow ourselves to tumble down rabbit holes of curiosity and expand our notions of what “interests” us. Now, you know a little bit more about art forgery! Maybe, the next time you hear something about carbon dating, you’ll have a little know-how there, too.
For more surprising connections to subjects you may have once thought were “not for me,” give these next articles a read. They are sure to have you finding new corners of the world to delight in!
So, whether you’re about to pack up and head off to become an art forgery expert or are just finding yourself walking a bit taller with the knowledge you now have about the worlds of art and science, go forth with your curiosity in hand.
You never know where the next question you have may lead, or when you’ll need to find a little more wonder in the world around you.
Stay beautiful & keep laughing!
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- It’s Okay To Be Smart. “How Atom Bombs Can Help Us Detect Art Forgery.” YouTube, 2 Jan. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=egBZUPVGqj4&feature=emb_title. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021. ↩