By Diane Y. Welch
Authenticating works of art, and sometimes revealing fakes, sounds like the basis for a dramatic movie plot. For Florence native Maurizio Seracini, it’s his business. Through his company Great Masters Art Authentication, LLC, Seracini – a scientist and art expert – analyzes paintings and architecture using state-of-the art technology to not only distinguish the genuine from the fake, but to also show iterations that a work of art or a building often undergoes.
On Thursday April 30, Seracini gave an informative presentation on these findings at Rancho Santa Fe’s The Village Church as guest lecturer in the Village Viewpoints series (presented by the Village Church and RSF Foundation).
Seracini focused on Renaissance masterpieces by Da Vinci, his “ Adoration of the Magi” and “The Last Supper,” and Botticelli’s “Allegory of Spring” illustrating graphically how much is hidden under the surface. Using multi-spectral diagnostic imaging artworks reveal secrets not apparent to the naked eye. In many cases, the artists’ under-drawings are visible providing clues to his creative process, explained Seracini.
“This technology can change not only our understanding, but especially our appreciation, of these masterpieces,” said Seracini in an interview after the presentation.
It can also reveal forgeries or how much restoration has been done and what has been lost in the process.
“Maurizio was able to show that oftentimes restorers change the painting so that portions of the original artwork are replaced with other images,” said Paige Vanosky, who attended the lecture and is co-chair of the Viewpoint’s program. “When they do keep the original art often the same paint hue isn’t used, and coatings used to preserve the work often change the colors that eat into the art,” she added.
There were over 20 Advance Placement art history students from Canyon Crest Academy (CCA) in the Viewpoints audience. “They told me afterward that Maurizio’s presentation greatly enhanced their perception of the artists and the work that they were studying in class, and that they were going to dig deeper into it,” said Vanosky.
Seracini sees his relationship with his student audiences as an opportunity for him to not only share his knowledge, but to also feed his own passion and to feel that he is not “fighting a lost battle” with his findings.
A week after his Viewpoints presentation Seracini gave a lecture in CCA’s Proscenium Theatre. He was invited to speak by twin sophomore students Ava and Julia Domann who introduced him. In part of this lecture Seracini showed the latest technology of soft-touch pressure tablets where an art or architectural image may be touched by finger pressure to erase the upper layers to reveal the secrets beneath. “Rather than being a passive viewer you can now appreciate and understand the art first hand as it was created,” he told students.
Since the mid-1970s, Seracini has pioneered the science of art diagnostics, employing a wide array of technologies more common in the biomedical field. That’s when he began the “Leonardo Project” to locate Da Vinci’s long-lost fresco “The Battle of Anghiari,” an endeavor that still remains a personal passion. This treasure hunt has been temporarily halted by the City of Florence where the famed fresco is purported to be hidden in one of the interior walls of the Hall of 500 in the Palazzo Vecchio.
“It is so important that we continue to search for this ultimate icon as it is the most important masterpiece ever conceived by Da Vinci. It is an absolute symbol of beauty and is the highest expression of his genius,” said Seracini.
A world traveler, with strong ties to San Diego, Seracini has taught audiences from kindergartners to adults. His lectures to children are a way “to generate some sparks in their mind, to feed their imagination, to raise their curiosity” he said. “It’s rewarding for me, more than you might think.”
On the broader spectrum Seracini sees his diagnostic technology for art as a tool to help understand humanity and preserve cultural values. And when this technology is used to authenticate masterpieces it can make an ethical stand against crime.
“The sale of fine art is a huge business with large amounts of money passed from one hand to another based solely on the opinion of a scholar which is so surprising to me, yet it is trusted fully,” he commented.
The next wave of technology in Seracini’s tool box of authentication includes how to date artworks through chemical analysis of the decaying process of the pigments used in the oil paints, a far more accurate process than current methods.
“This can give objective refined answers to possible forgeries,” said Seracini. “I would strongly suggest for art owners to be aware that today it is not a matter of trust if you want to invest in art it is a matter of science,” he stressed.
Visit www.greatmastersart.com to find out more about Maurizio Seracini.