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Café, galleries and shop: Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm

House: Tuesday – Sunday 12  – 5pm

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Last entry to the House is at 4.30pm

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In collaboration with the University of Cambridge Museums, Artist: Unknown brings together works of art from across the University’s collections. A podcast series has been produced to run alongside the exhibition, and we will be taking a closer look at some of the objects discussed.

Joshua Nall, Curator of Modern Sciences at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, discusses the inclusion of scientific objects in the third Artist: Unknown podcast. All three of the instruments included in the exhibition are fakes, meaning that their artist is unknown on purpose. This makes them unique from other objects in the exhibition. Here, the makers are actively trying to keep their identity hidden. Fakes such as these would have been sold on as genuine antiques to collectors for a profit.

The small silver globe displayed in the exhibition is signed by the cartographer Paolo Forlani, suggesting that it dates from the late 16th century, making it a rare example of early globe making. Actually, it was likely made in the early 1920s, shortly before being sold on to a collector. Liba Taub, Director of the Whipple Museum, became suspicious of the object’s authenticity due to the fact that the silver was so shiny – it had never tarnished. Recent x-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis revealed that the globe was in fact Rhodium plated, a metalworking practice developed in the 1920s to stop silver tarnishing, indicating that the globe was likely a modern forgery.

Scientific Instruments, Artist: Unknown, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, 2019

“The signature is a forgery, it’s intended to deceive. The actual maker is unknown, because they wanted to remain unknown.” – Josh Nall

The flat, brass instrument displayed next to the silver globe is called an Astrolabe. Astrolabes are calculating devices that display the night sky on their surface. A user can perform calculations on them to find where objects in the night sky have been in the past, or will be in the future.

This particular astrolabe is dated ‘24th March, 1597’ and signed ‘Joannes Bos’. It was the date that first suggested the instrument’s true heritage. Derek J. Price’s 1950s research into the instrument uncovered at least three other astrolabes, all with the exact same date, to the day. Suspecting that no maker could produce four identical instruments in one day, Price dug further, revealing a range of fake instruments, all traceable back to the same source in Amsterdam – Frederik Muller & Co., directed by Anton Mensing. Subsequently, these instruments became known as the ‘Mensing fakes’.

But can a fake still be a work of art? Should the forger also be celebrated as an artist? Make up your mind as you find out more by listening to the podcast, and visiting the exhibition.

 

Listen to the podcasts here.