The authentication of artworks has long been a contentious battle in the art world. These days, such debates mainly concern modern and contemporary artworks, though an ongoing, decades-long dispute currently being waged in Italy centers around a work believed by some to be done by a Renaissance master.
In a report by the New York Times, the London-based dealer Alexander Rudigier tells of a longstanding debate to prove that a bronze work, Bathing Venus, that he co-owns is the work by artist Giambologna, who is best-known for his marble sculpture the Rape of the Sabine Women (1574–82) in Florence and his many deceptions of Venus. During the 30 years since its rediscovery, Rudigier has tried to find a buyer for the work.
Though many art historians have long disagreed, the Times report says that the Uffizi Galleries in Florence recently came out in support of the Giambologna attribution, including it in the museum’s current exhibition, “Forged in Fire. Bronze sculpture in Florence under the last Medici.” The article notes that many scholars believe the work to merely be a copy made a century later of a work by Giambologna currently held in the Getty Museum’s collection in Los Angeles.
Much of the dispute rests on whether the date inscribed on the Venus is 1597 or 1697. The year of the work’s making could impact the work’s price tag—perhaps even inflating it by several millions. (Look no further than the recent sale of Salvator Mundi for $450.3 million for this kind of price inflation. That work was originally attributed to a follower of Leonardo da Vinci and sold for only a few thousand dollars, and then, once it was deemed a true Leonardo, it was sold again at Christie’s for the sum that made it the most expensive artwork sold at auction.)
Some scholars have disagreed with the Uffizi and its director, Eike Schmidt, saying that the decision to include the work in the show effectively—and, perhaps, incorrectly—attributes the piece to Giambologna. German art historian Dorothea Diemer told the Times, “They try to give credibility to their opinion by exhibiting it. It’s for sale, and so this attribution makes a difference. It is a question of such a lot of money.”
In a statement sent to the Times, the Uffizi countered this criticism: “The bronze has been included in the exhibition exclusively for scholarly reasons. A number of internationally renowned experts from museums and academia have independently concluded that the Bathing Venus is a 16th-century sculpture.”