An Art History Mystery with No Shortage of Sleuths

Historians in the News
tags: statues, art history, digital history, public engagement

“Is it a ‘5’ or a ‘6’? ” a New York Times headline asked readers several days ago as the article detailed an art history dispute that is roiling the curatorial ranks. It was the kind of question that inspired the detectives among our readers. The story also sparked a debate among readers, akin to 2015’s viral blue dress or gold dress discussion, that highlighted how two people can look at the same image and see very different things.

This dispute revolves around a bronze statue titled “Bathing Venus” that is being presented as a newly discovered artwork by the venerated Italian sculptor Giambologna and exhibited in Florence, Italy.

But several experts argue the piece is actually a copy of another Giambologna statue, currently in the Getty in Los Angeles. They say “Bathing Venus” was made a century later by an obscure Swedish bronze maker. The debate turns, in part, on whether a number inscribed on the sculpture is read as a “5” or a “6,” making the year of the Venus’s creation 1597 — or 1697, long after Giambologna’s death, which would make it much less valuable.

Read entire article at NY Times

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