I thought it might be nice to continue with a religious theme of sorts this week, as it is Easter Sunday. Rather than give you a long diatribe about the Easter Bunny being a fake unto itself I decided to give you a far more fascinating forgery, especially in light of the scandal surrounding the botched restoration in Spain from last year.

In 1951, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Lübeck, Germany decided to commission a prestigious restoration firm to clean up the paintings and frescoes within the church in honor of its 700th anniversary. Most the paintings were in dire need of repair, and some were even to faint to be even seen properly, and the finished restoration was deemed a triumph. Everyone marveled at the newly discovered portraits of kings and dignitaries, animals seemingly brought to life in all their realistic detail along the walls of the cathedral. Including the turkey.

Now I know, you are probably wondering, what on earth is so exciting about a turkey? Big deal it’s just a boring old land bound bird that makes appallingly bad sipping whiskey. The big deal is that the frescoes were supposedly from the thirteenth century. However, German fresco painters would not learn about these marvelous creatures until at least the sixteenth century, when explorers finally made it to the New World.  Scholars tried their best to rationalize the presence of the turkeys, they believed so fervently in the murals.  One scholar even came up with a theory involving the Vikings bringing the turkey back with them during their largely overlooked forays to the New World (well, Obelix was always hungry).

the forger himself (image taken from this rather interesting blog entry about authenticity and aesthetics)

A year after the unveiling the real artist came forward and claimed the work as his own: Lothar Malskat, one of the restorers who worked on the project.  After being initially ignored, Malskat, in a brilliant P.R. move, demanded that his lawyer sue not only the company responsible for the restoration, but Malskat personally, thus guaranteeing himself a public arena trial.  During his trial Malskat demonstrated how there really had been no murals prior to his involvement, and how many of the historical portraits had been modeled on twentieth century figures.

Malskat was successfully convicted of fraud and both and he and his employer went to jail.  After he got out Malskat tried to capitalize on his forger prestige, but never quite received his fifteen minutes of fame: apparently using Marlene Dietrich to inspire your forgeries and then exposing your own fraud in a public show trial arena only worked for Van Meegeren.

For those of you who celebrate, Happy Good Friday!

example of Malskat’s work in the Cathedral, now in the Falschermuseum in Vienna (image from here)

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