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 outwalking them.) 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 Mona Lisa 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!