Aaron and Charlotte Elkins, best-selling husband and wife author duo, of The Art Whisperer, gave us insights into what’s true and what’s not in four different crime scenarios. Can you guess the truth?
SCENARIO 1: EXPLOSIONS
Question:What is wrong with these pictures?
Answer: What is wrong is that all these actors are outrunning explosions (Antonio Banderas and Hugh Jackman are so cool that they're outwalkingthem.) But can you really outwalk an explosion? Nope. Can you outrun one? Not a chance, and here's why:
The Olympic record for the hundred yard dash is about 11 yards per second. Let's err on the generous side, though, and assume there's someone somewhere that might actually be faster. So say we're looking at 15 yards per second.
And how fast does the shockwave of an explosion travel? 1.5 miles per second. Even Tom Cruise (the guy in the Iron Man suit) can't beat that.
SCENARIO 2: THE MONA LISA
The most spectacular art theft of the twentieth century occurred in 1911, when a workman named Vincenzo Perugia walked out of the Louvre with the world's most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. (A ironic note: at the time, he had been employed in building a protective box for Mona.) Two year later the painting was recovered and returned to the Louvre, where it remains today.
But how do we know that the painting that came back is the very same one that was taken? The Mona Lisa has been copied thousands of times, often by highly competent artists. The great Andrea del Sarto, a contemporary of da Vinci's and a fellow-Florentine, was himself commissioned by Francis I of France to make six of them--of which the whereabouts of none are known today.
The Mona Lisa is unsigned. It is undated.. (Francis bought it from da Vinci in 1517, years after it had been painted.). Why it had been painted is unknown. There is no record of a commission, nor any reliable record of who the sitter was. Many people believe she is Mona del Giacondo, the wife of a Florentine merchant, but real evidence is lacking, to say the least. She wasn’t even called the MonaLisa until three hundred years later. Until then it had no name, being referred to in the court records of Francis simply as “a portrait of a Florentine lady.”
Question: So how do we know for sure that the picture now in the Louvre is the very one that Leonardo da Vinci painted five hundred years ago?
a) We don't.
b) A fingerprint in the lower right corner definitely identified as Leonardo's.
c) A strand of feather, embedded in the paint, that exactly matches a stuffed owl that he had in his studio.
d) A faded shred of red fabric, embedded in the paint, and shown to come from the bookmarking ribbon of Rubens' personal copy of Manutius's printing of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.
Answer: (a). Not even today's wonderfully advanced forensic techniques can prove that this or any other picture was painted by da Vinci. Or del Sarto, for that matter. Forensics are terrific at proving that an old painting is a fake--the wrong pigments, the wrong age, the wrong kind of canvas (e.g., made by machine instead of hand-woven), etc. But how would you prove that a painting is the real thing, as opposed to an expert copy made during the artist's lifetime, e.g., one of del Sarto's? Thepoplar wood panel would be the right age, the pigments, fixatives, and varnishes would be the very ones used at that time in Florence, and so on.
There is, in nutshell, no way of establishing absolute certainty that we have the right Mona Lisa. Ninety-nine percent certainty? You bet. You have faith in the integrity and competence of the Louvre in this matter, right? So do I. But would you bet your life on it?
Flash: This very morning, a kindly dealer in antique photographs sold us this amazing picture: the only known photograph of Peruggia in the act of stealing the painting. We're very excited!
SCENARIO 3: THE FORGER
Question: Master forger Pablo Cipasso paints a portrait in the style of Peter Paul Rubens. He does this on exactly the kind of oak paneling that Rubens would have used for his backing, and he employs the very pigments and media that were available to artists in seventeenth-century Antwerp. He carefully signs it in Rubens' typical manner: PPR1623F (Pieter Pauwel Rubens, made in 1634). On the back he even puts convincing old Flemish inscriptions in faded brown ink.Then he dries it in the oven, artificially ages the wood and the painted surface, and stores it in his attic along with similar pieces, and awaits a gullible buyer.
Eventually, of course, he finds one, Mr. Greedy N. Gullible, avid art collector. Pablo shows him the suitably dusty, flyspecked picture, explains that he came across it in his attic, and, gosh, it looks really old, doesn't it? He's been wondering if it's worth much money. What does Mr. Gullible think? Mr. Gullible, who knows enough about art to recognize that "PPR"(and not much more), starts salivating. He offers $5,000, "reluctantly" lets himself be talked up to $10,000, and walks out with his "Rubens" under his arm..
Two week later he finds out he's been duped and goes to the police, who listen to his story and tell him that, if he can substantiate it...
a) Pablo is looking at jail time for forgery.
b) Pablo is looking at jail time for plagiarism
c) Pablo is looking at jail time for fraud
d) None of the above
Which is it?
Answer: It's not (a) because art forgery is not technically recognized as a crime in the United States. It's not (b) either. A typical definition of plagiarism (and there are a lot of them) is "the use of others' ideas and/or words without clearly acknowledging the source of that information." To my knowledge no formal accusation of plagiarism has ever involved a work of art. There is even some dispute as to whether it is technically a criminal act. Different states have different codes.
"Fraud," however, is indeed criminal, and it is for this crime that forgers are typically prosecuted. But Pablo hasn't committed fraud either. Everything he's done is perfectly legal, even the sale itself. He has made sure he didn't make the crucial mistake--he never claimed to Mr. Gullible that the painting was by Rubens. Without that, no law has been broken.
The correct answer is (d).
SCENARIO 4: WISE CRACKS
Question: The photo on the left shows a skull with two bullet holes in it.. The one on the right is a close-up of the holes. From looking at these pictures, would you say that
a) Shot no. 1 (the hole on the right) was fired first.
b) Shot no. 2 (the one on the left) was fired first
c) Shot no. 1 is an exit wound; shot no. 2 is an entrance wound
d) They are both entrance wounds.
Answer: The correct answer is (b). How do we know? Because cracks can't cross cracks. Look at the crack running diagonally down from hole 2. Then look at the one from hole 1 that intersects with it. The crack from no. 2 continues merrily on its way, but the one from no. 1 is stopped dead in its tracks. Therefore, hole 2...and its cracks...were there first.
The reason neither (c) nor (d) is correct is that they are both exit wounds, as revealed by the outward "beveling" of the edges. The victim was shot in the back of the head. (If they were entrance wounds, the beveling would be toward the inside, not the outside.)