10 Famous Fake Antiques and the Suckers Who Bought Them


The Getty Kouros

Visitors look at the possibly fake statue at the Getty Villa Museum in Malibu, Calif. on April 18, 2011. ©GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
Visitors look at the possibly fake statue at the Getty Villa Museum in Malibu, Calif. on April 18, 2011. ┬ęGABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

A kouros is a statue of a naked youth; this boy is 6.7 feet (2 meters) tall, stands with his arms at his sides, his left foot forward, and he is looking straight ahead. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, Calif., first laid eyes on a now controversial Greek kouros in the 1980s, and is rumored to have paid as much as $12 million for what may or may not be a fake [source: Muchnic].

The museum bought the statue in 1985 from a Basel art dealer after testing and studying the piece for two years. The statue is thought to be from the Archaic Greek period, but the trouble is the Getty kouros has a few qualities that make confirming its authenticity difficult.

Scholars, art dealers and scientists have all taken a crack at the mystery. Scientifically, the statue seems as though it could come from the hands of a late 6th-century B.C. sculptor. The stone, for example, is ancient marble from the island of Thasos, and the tool markings match with the Archaic Greek period. But there is question whether or not the de-dolomitization (the way the surface of the stone has aged) is artificial, and the choice of marble during this time period is also questioned. Stylistically, the Getty kouros is a bit of a problem. It's like a quilt, blending a mix of early and late styles -- and those same stylistic problems also appear on a torso of another kouros that has since proven to be a fake.

Until the sculpture's authenticity is confirmed, the display notes for the Getty kouros remark that the sculpture may date back to 530 B.C., or it may be a modern forgery dating only back to about 1980.

Author's Note: 10 Famous Fake Antiques and the Suckers Who Bought Them

I remember the first time I saw the Mona Lisa. She seemed so small, and not really what I had imagined. (What is it with great works of art that make them seem so large in your imagination?) But she was somehow more stunning than I'd imagined, as well. So when I got to see the Getty kouros in Malibu, I wasn't sure what to expect. Is it fake or not, and if it's a forgery instead of a great antiquity, is it still interesting because of its mystery? I'm curious what they'll find out.

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