A group of scientists led by Dr. Carina Popovici ran a test to determine the authenticity of a Peter Paul Rubens masterpiece owned by the National Gallery in London. Instead of the typical tests you might imagine, Dr. Popovici instead used artificial intelligence. To the shock of almost everyone involved with the study, the famed painting, titled Samson and Delilah, is highly likely to be a fake.
“We repeated the experiments to be really sure that we were not making a mistake and the result was always the same. Every patch, every single square, came out as fake, with more than 90% probability,” said Dr. Popovici.
To some, this result did not come as a surprise. Though the National Gallery insisted that this was an original Rubens, many had their doubts about its origin. Skeptics questioned the painting’s style, quality, and deviation from the typical Rubens masterpieces. The gallery claimed the differences were due to Rubens experimenting with different styles and methods.
Euphrosyne Doxiadis, an artist, independent scholar, and one of the main critics of the purported Rubens painting, still maintains an entire website dedicated to debunking the picture and had even submitted a report to the gallery in 1992. Even the provenance of the painting was sketchy. Ludwig Burchard, an expert on Rubens, had signed off on the authenticity of the painting. But after his death, it was revealed that he had falsely authenticated work for his benefit, which brings questions to the authenticity of many of the Rubens paintings, including the Samson and Delilah.
The process of authenticating an artwork had historically been difficult. The human eye is easy to deceive. Even the biggest expert in any field can have their vision clouded by emotions. AI, however, has no such problem.
“The significance of this new AI method of authentication is potentially groundbreaking. Devoid of human subjectivity, emotion, and commercial interests, the software is coldly objective and scientifically accurate. Many questionable works were attributed to Rubens at the beginning of the 20th century… There is today a distinct need for more reliable methods of connoisseurship,” said Dr. Katarzyna Krzyżagórska-Pisarek, an art historian who has identified more than 60 of Burchard’s Rubens attributions that have subsequently been demoted.