Dec 6, 2011

'Fake' paintings trick viewers in brain scan test

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Old Man with Beard, Rembrandt
This portrait was established as a Rembrandt last month. Does that make it more enjoyable to look at?
Art lovers looking at a painting they think is fake have an entirely different response from those who think it is genuine, say researchers.

Brain scans revealed how much the enjoyment of art is influenced by the information given to the viewer.

The pleasure revealed in brain activity depended on the viewer believing that a Rembrandt painting was authentic.

Professor Martin Kemp of Oxford University says it shows "the way we view art is not rational".

The pretension-puncturing experiment suggests that the appreciation of art is strongly linked to the accompanying information - rather than an objective judgement.

The pleasure taken from a masterpiece is shaped by the viewer being told by others that this is an authentic work.

Faking it
The study scanned the brains of people as they viewed images of Rembrandt portraits - some authentic and others which were imitations and fakes.

Rembrandt was chosen as a good example because recent scholarship has been trying to identify imitations and copies of the Dutch painter's work.

Even when we cannot distinguish between two works, the knowledge that one was painted by a renowned artist makes us respond to it very differently”
Martin Kemp Professor of the History of Art, Oxford University
The experiment in neuroscience and aesthetics compared how the brains reacted to paintings which people thought were authentic with their responses to paintings they were told were fakes.

This found that the responses to viewing an authentic old master were deeply pleasurable, likened to tasting good food or winning a bet.

This warm glow of aesthetic pleasure was absent when the viewers looked at an image they had been told was fake. Instead the brain activity was associated with strategy and planning, as though the subject was trying to work out why this was not an authentic painting.

The study showed the strength of suggestibility in such artistic responses. The beauty was not just in the eye of the holder, but also it seems the copyright holder.

Mapping the brain
Once someone had been told a painting was authentic or fake, their response was shaped by this assumption, regardless of whatever the actual authenticity of the image they were shown.

When a message had been given to a subject that they were looking at a fake, their brain activity reflected their suspicions rather than their pleasure, even if they were looking at an authentic masterpiece.

The measurements were made using a system called "functional magnetic resonance imaging" (FMRI), which maps which parts of the brain are used in a specific mental process.

Professor Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at Oxford University, said: 'Our findings support what art historians, critics and the general public have long believed - that it is always better to think we are seeing the genuine article.

"Our study shows that the way we view art is not rational, that even when we cannot distinguish between two works, the knowledge that one was painted by a renowned artist makes us respond to it very differently. 

"The fact that people travel to galleries around the world to see an original painting suggests that this conclusion is reasonable," said Professor Kemp.

He says that it shows the extent to which expectation shapes what we experience in art - in the same way that the pleasure of food might be influenced by the description in a menu.

As a follow-up, he says that he would like to try out a similar test on art experts.

As well as Professor Kemp, the study was carried out by Professor Andrew Parker and Mengfei Huang of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, in collaboration with Dr Holly Bridge at the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB)



Artist spots hidden images of animals in Mona Lisa

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An artist claims to have finally cracked the 500-year-old mystery of the Mona Lisa - by spotting hidden images that nobody has seen before.
Artist spots hidden images of animals in Mona Lisa

A view of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa with highlighted area 
Ron Piccirillo found the heads of a lion, an ape and a buffalo hovering in the air after turning the painting on its side.
He also discovered a crocodile or snake coming out of the left hand side of her body by following the instructions as laid out in the journals of Leonardo da Vinci, who painted the picture.
Mr Piccirillo claims that his discovery cracks open the meaning of the work - that the Mona Lisa is actually a representation of envy.
His theory will be extremely controversial amongst art critics who have come up with dozens of theories about the painting and its enigmatic smile since it was completed around 1519.
But in further claims which are likely to set the art world alight, Mr Piccirillo says he has found similar hidden images in other Renaissance painters like Titian and Rafael.
Mr Piccirillo, 37, who is an oil painter and graphic designer, said made his discovery after "employing an old artist's trick" of turning the Mona Lisa on its side to get a fresh perspective on the painting. 

It was at that point that he noticed the lion's head hovering in the air above the Mona Lisa's head. 

He said: "Then I noticed the buffalo and I thought: 'Oh my god'. 

"Then I realised I was really onto something. 

"I just could not believe what I was looking at. I realised: 'This is what I've been looking for'. 

"I spent the next two months pouring over da Vinci's journals and came across the passage on envy which for me sums up what this is about. 

"The Mona Lisa is a depiction of envy. 

"It's amazing because everyone thought that da Vinci never wrote about the Mona Lisa, but now it appears that he did." 

The passage in question talks about how the artist trying to paint envy must "give her a leopard's skin, because this creature kills the lion out of envy and by deceit" - a reference to the hidden lion's head. 

Once Mr Piccirillo cracked that everything else fell into place. 

Looking at the Mona Lisa's right hand bent awkwardly at the wrist he suddenly understood the passage: "Envy must be represented with a contemptuous motion of the hand towards heaven, because if she could she would use her strength against God." 

The shading around her eyes and nose, which resemble a palm tree, now also explains the line: "Show her as wounded in the eye by a palm branch and by an olive-branch, and wounded in the ear by laurel and myrtle, to signify that victory and truth are odious to her." 

Mr Piccirillo said: "It is beyond coincidence to have identified these hidden images after finding references to them in Leonardo's own writings." 

Mr Piccirillo discovered another hidden image - the crocodile or snake - by following the instructions in another part of da Vinci's writings that you must look at the painting from an angle of about 45 degrees from the left hand side. 

This was supposedly where the angle of the light was best and led to the least amount of reflection. 

From a diagram in da Vinci's journals which explained this, Mr Piccirillo called it the "D-point". 

The instructions also called for the viewer to put their eyes on the same level as the horizon in the painting. 

From this he was able to make sense of the line in the passage about how to paint envy which reads: "Make her heart gnawed by a swelling serpent", as there is such a creature emerging from her right breast. 

Mr Piccirillo said: "This is really about viewing perspective. Imagine standing in front of an oval line drawing. 

"It is obviously an oval, but if you view it from the left or right, at a large enough angle, the oval turns into a circle. 

"This is the key to understanding how Leonardo and many other Renaissance artists hid subjects in their artwork. 

"If you know to look for them, they are there. 

"I don't know why this has been missed for so long and I can't tell you what it means - that's one for the art historians. 

"Da Vinci could have been using horses heads as some kind of religious code, but as to why they are hidden I have no idea. 

"It's not every day you spot something that has gone unnoticed for 500 years." 

He added: "It is not just in da Vinci's works. I have seen these hidden images in works by Titian and Rafael and also all over the Sistine Chapel. 

"If you look at many parts of the Sistine Chape from the D-point you can see there are hidden images. 

"In the characters sitting on the perimeter for example, Michelangelo has created dozens of tiny paintings that have a new meaning if you view them from the D-point." 

The Mona Lisa has been the subject of endless speculation and a string of theories have sprung about surrounding it.