Forgery and the Ancient: Art, Agency, Authorship

As an activity and a concept, forgery is immediately controversial. It calls to mind illegal, unethical, and dishonest practice, and it stirs debates over authenticity, value, authorship, and meaning. The growth of scholarship on forgery in recent decades means that a host of new questions can be applied to its study, a longstanding and crucial branch of humanistic research.

How, for example, can fresh perspectives on intentionality and meaning shift discourse on the perceived intellectual and financial value of a forged work of art? What might theories of culturally and historically determined authorship change about our understanding of the origin, creation, and function of a forged text? When is a perceived forgery not, in fact, a forgery – fraudulent, diminished, even tainted – and instead a creative act of impersonation?

This Rice Seminar will investigate these and other issues as they relate to the topic of forgery and the ancient. Scholarship on forgery touches nearly every age of history and every part of the globe, and it inevitably deals with the culture-period that the forgery references, the culture-period in which it is produced, and the culture-periods over which it is received. Consequently, the field is vast and requires an expertise that reaches across traditional scholarly boundaries of time, geography and field. We anticipate a Rice Seminar that is robustly interdisciplinary, bringing together art historians, literary critics and historians, working in a wide range of specializations.

A central part of this seminar is the role that notions of antiquity play in the drive to create, reproduce and pass works of art and text for ancient treasure and testimony. In different parts of the world, the antique begins and ends at different times, and it has diverse meanings for those who secretly recreate it. Consequently, the Seminar will cast a wide net, and it will have within its compass over three thousand years of ancient history on six continents. Furthermore, because the study of forgery necessarily involves the study of the reception of forgery, the Seminar will extend into the present. We expect that participants, invited lecturers, and Seminar conference papers will reach into times, places, and fields as diverse as Ancient Mediterranean artistic production, Medieval Christian, Chinese and Islamic manuscripts, pre-Columbian and modern Latin American art, Renaissance and Neo-Classical sculpture, museum and cultural heritage studies and more.


The program of the Rice Seminars is designed to encourage interdisciplinary teaching and research and to facilitate new research communities at Rice and beyond. The Seminar will bring together a select group of Rice faculty members, four visiting scholars, and Rice graduate students to study a common theme, in this case, the practices and notions of Forgery and the Ancient, from several disciplinary perspectives.

The program of the Seminar year is centered on free time for the visiting scholars to perform research and meet in bi-monthly workshops. Over the spring and summer of 2017, the eight seminar participants, along with the HRC staff, will work together to create a robust itinerary of guest specialists for the Seminar year. Each guests will be in residence for a week to present a lecture to the Rice community and participate in one of the bi-monthly workshops.

The most visible goal of the seminars is a major conference and a scholarly publication, to which all participants will contribute. Equally important but less visible is the creation of international and interdisciplinary scholarly communities that will outlive the seminar. Primary obligations include active participation in all aspects of the Rice Seminar, developing or continuing individual or collaborative research projects, and giving a presentation to colleagues at Rice. Fellows will also design and teach (or co-teach) two semester-long undergraduate courses.



Scott McGill, Professor of Classical Studies
John Hopkins, Assistant Professor of Art History and Classical Studies

Autrey Visiting Professors

Christopher Hallett, Professor of History of Art and Classics
Erin Thompson, Assistant Professor of Fraud, Forensics, Art Law, and Crime

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellows

Frederic Clark, Visiting Assistant Professor at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
Kathryn Langenfeld, Ph.D. Classical Studies

Graduate Student Fellows

Alexander McAdams, Department of English
Jason Ford, Department of Religion

Participants in the 2017-2018 Rice Seminar, Forgery and the Ancient, were selected through applications submitted in the Fall of 2016 for a residency that runs from August 15, 2017 through May 15, 2018.


4/19/18 Bart Ehrman James A. Gray Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Literary Deceit in Its Various (Dis)Guises

4:00 pm, Humanities 119
Open to the Public, Registration Required

Many scholars of early Christianity express qualms about calling a forgery a forgery – an understandable reluctance when dealing with a book in canonical scripture. An alternative such as “pseudepigraphon” may seem better – more neutral and wissenschaftlich – but it has the drawback of mystification. Who would know it refers to a book written by someone intentionally but falsely claiming to be a famous person? Or that, even in the ancient world, this was considered a lie? There are different ways a text could be forged (sometimes authorial claims, for example, are inserted by later editors). These are usefully differentiated from one another. And forgery is not the only kind of literary deceit. Thus it is important to distinguish one set of practices from another and to determine which can justifiably be considered duplicitous. Plagiarism is obviously a distinct phenomenon; so too are the fabrication of a narrative, the falsification of a text, and the erroneous attribution of a text. This lecture will address these and other forms of literary deceit in evidence among the Christian writings of the first four centuries.

Bio: Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He began his teaching career at Rutgers University, and joined the faculty in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC in 1988, where he has served as both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the Department. Speaker URL

4/12/18 Morehshin Allahyari Artist, Activist, Educator and Curator

On Digital Colonialism and Refiguring

4:00 pm, Rayzor Hall 123
Open to the Public, Registration Required

This talk will cover previous projects and some of Morehshin’s current research in relationship to activism, Digital Colonialism, refiguring, and monstrosity from a position of ‘outside’ and in relationship to the current political climate and the urge for other-future building.

Bio: Morehshin Allahyari is an artist, activist, educator, and occasional curator. She is the recipient of the leading global thinkers of 2016 award by Foreign Policy magazine. Speaker URL

3/22/18 Lydia Pyne Writer and Historian

Genuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach Us About Real Stuff

4:00 pm, Rayzor Hall 123
Open to the Public, Registration Required

No one wants to be bamboozled by a fake, but everyone loves hearing about those who are. Frauds, forgeries, and fakes all make for fantastic stories and have for millennia. It’s easy to treat “real” and “fake” as discrete, distinct categories because finding examples of each appears to be so straightforward. However, history is full of things that are “real” and “not” at the same time: things that live for decades, even centuries, as genuine fakes. The social history, scientific background, and the cultural cachet of these genuinely fake objects have played significant roles in helping to develop and spread very real knowledge about the world and have done so in curious and unexpected ways. To that end, many famous forgeries become collectible and real in their own rights (eg. William Ireland’s Shakespearean forgeries; the Spanish Forger’s faux medieval paintings; and Beringer’s Lying Stones, to name a few.) Understanding the context for genuine fakes – and questioning why authenticity is has become the oft-used yardstick to measure an object’s value – challenges the commonly held conceit that all fakes are, by definition, problematic. History shows us that the continuum of fakery is fluid and objects move along it all the time.

Bio: Lydia Pyne is a writer and historian, interested in the history of science and material culture. She has degrees in history and anthropology and a PhD in history and philosophy of science from Arizona State University. Her field and archival work has ranged from South Africa, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and Iran, as well as the American Southwest. Speaker URL

2/22/18 Lawrence Principe Drew Professor of the Humanities, Johns Hopkins University

Hopes and Fears: The Promises and Perils of Alchemy in Early Modern France

4:00 pm, Rayzor Hall 123
Open to the Public, Registration Required

Throughout its long history, alchemy provoked more anxiety than any other branch of natural philosophy. Alchemists were considered by many to be primarily counterfeiters or frauds, their most respected texts were often pseudonymous forgeries, and their desired products–alchemically-prepared precious metals–were considered by some to be mere forgeries or simulacra of natural materials despite the protestations of alchemists themselves. Nevertheless, the potential and promise of alchemy proved too hard even for some skeptics to resist; hence some rulers patronized it even while outlawing it. This talk focuses primarily on late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century France when metallic transmutation was both pursued avidly by the most prominent chymists of the day and viewed anxiously by administrative and governmental officials. Such anxiety appears to be, far more than scientific reasoning, the primary cause for alchemy’s apparent disappearance in the 1720s.

Bio: Dr. Lawrence M. Principe is Drew Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University. He earned a B.S. in Chemistry and a B.A. in Liberal Studies from the University of Delaware. He also holds two doctorates: a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Indiana University, Bloomington, and a Ph.D. in the History of Science from Johns Hopkins University. His research specialization lies in exploring and understanding the history of chemistry/alchemy. Speaker URL

1/25/18 Kenneth Lapatin Associate Curator, J. Paul Getty Museum

Original, Copy, or Forgery? Looking Again at Ancient Bronze Statuary

4:00 pm, Rayzor Hall 123
Open to the Public, Registration Required

Rare survivals from classical antiquity, bronze sculptures have long been prized as original works of ancient art. By bringing together more than 50 statues usually presented in splendid isolation and fetishized as unique masterpieces, the ground-breaking international loan exhibition Power & Pathos: Bronze Statuary from the Hellenistic World recently challenged this view. In this presentation, curator Kenneth Lapatin reviews the premises of the exhibition as well as its development and installation in three venues - the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Displaying closely related statues side-by-side for the first time and fully acknowledging the implications of their production using molds through the lost-wax method of casting, the exhibition emphasized (among other messages) the serial production of ancient statues, questioning several notions about originality and replication that have long dominated the study of ancient art, evoking a strong reaction from traditionalists and engendering controversy that continues to the present day.

Bio: Lapatin is a classical archaeologist specializing in the art and culture of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Aegean Bronze Age. He has published books and essays on ancient sculpture, vases, mosaics, gems and other luxury arts, Pompeiian and Roman villas (including the history of the Getty Villa), artists’ practices, the post-antique reception of classical art, forgery, and repatriation.

11/6/17 Irene Peirano Garrison Associate Professor, Director of Graduate Studies in Classics, Yale University

The Affective Power of the Original: Authenticity as Fides

4:00 pm, Humanities 119
Open to the Public, Registration Required

On the basis of ancient testimonia from Gellius, Galen, and others, scholars of the ancient Roman book have long insisted on the existence of an extensive market for forged manuscripts. This paper revaluates the testimonia with a focus not on the provenance of the books but instead on the language of authenticity in these sources. For example, the manuscript of Cicero corrected by Tiro is described in Gellius as “a book of proven trustworthiness made with Tiro’s diligence and learning” (NA 1.7.1-2 in libro spectatae fidei Tironiana cura atque disciplina facto). Fides, which most closely translates authenticity in this and other passages, collapses two related conceptual fields: the authenticity of the transmitted text and the authenticity of the book as an object. Through the vocabulary of fides, authenticity is construed as an “affective” mode in which the focus falls not on the supposed relationship to an original but on the power of the object to command the trust of the reading subject. Similarly to written records, which can be constructed in humanizing form as a “loyal guard” (Livy 6.1 custodia fidelis) protecting the past, authentic manuscripts are “affective objects” that allow one to access the author’s writing.

Bio: Irene Peirano Garrison studied at Oriel College, Oxford (B.A. Hons. Literae Humaniores 2002) and Harvard University (Ph.D. Classical Philology 2007). Her main research interests are Latin poetry, Literary Criticism and Rhetorical Theory in Antiquity, Reception Theory and Gender. Speaker URL

10/3/17 Walter Stephens Professor of Italian Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Rewriting the Bible in Renaissance Italy: Bogus 'Truths' About Noah's Flood and What They Teach Us

4:00 pm, Humanities 115
Open to the Public, Registration Required

What can we learn from forgery? Forgery is fake news that constructs a comfortable past by announcing new “facts” to replace embarrassing particulars about history. Heroes and villains change places, uplift and pride displace a person’s or community’s humiliation. In the Bible, history begins with Noah, so the Flood has remained the favorite starting-point for overturning accepted versions of historical truth. Until the 1490’s, individuals and governments sought prestige and power by tracing their legitimacy to Noah. By then, many Italian intellectuals rejected the civilization of the “Middle Ages,” dismissing it as the destruction of Roman greatness by northern, “Gothic” barbarity. But in 1498, a wily priest accelerated Italian revisionism by rewriting world history entirely, from Noah to the Borgias. Inventing historical and archeological discoveries, the audacious forger combined the Bible with bogus “ancient” documents and artifacts. He “proved” that the Romans themselves were barbarian “Vandals” who usurped the oldest world empire, founded by Noah and ruled by the mysterious Etruscans from their capital in Viterbo—the forger’s home town. Thus any true Renaissance would be Etruscan, not Roman, much less Greek! Despite constant, scholarly rebuttals, this hoax inspired 250 years of comforting fake news by patriots all over Europe.

Bio: Walter Stephens is the Charles S. Singleton Professor of Italian Studies in the Department of German and Romance Languages, co-editor of MLN Italian, and founder of Great Books at Hopkins for undergraduates. He has been a visiting professor of Italian at Yale University (2012) and the Université François Rabelais in Tours, France (2008), and has taught a faculty seminar on “Writing and Wonder” at the Folger Institute (2008). He has been a visiting fellow at the Oxford University colleges of All Souls (2004–05) and Christ Church (2009), at the Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of Durham, U.K. (2012), and at the Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies in the Oriental Institute of Oxford University (2014). Stephens’s teaching and research explore the relation of medieval and Renaissance literature to theology, witchcraft, literary forgery, and the history of scholarship. Speaker URL


Click here for the latest version of our seminar bibliography.

Here, too, are a few links to forgery in popular discussion:

"This is your brain on knockoffs." Salon, 2017.

Artist Kathleen Gilje's Webiste.