Art Recognition, a Swiss company that uses AI to authenticate art, has rekindled questions about the Kunsthaus Zürich Evening landscape with couple (circa 1518-1520), hailed as the only painting by Titian in Switzerland. Its algorithm has ruled that there is an 80% chance that the work is misattributed.
The Kunsthaus Zürich received the high-contrast scene in 2019 thanks to a donation from the Dr. Joseph Scholz Foundation, where Christian Klemm, then museum curator, also served on the board. Klemm had recommended that the Foundation acquire the painting. English art historian Paul Joannides attributed the work to Titian – an attribution being a technicality that allows a measure of uncertainty, versus a decisive “by”.
However celebrated, the gift was also controversial. The unsigned work was painted on paper and then mounted on canvas – which is unusual for works of art created during Titian’s time – and does not appear in any catalog of the artist’s work. The Gothic bell tower in the background was also more characteristic of northern Europe than of 16th-century Italy.
“We knew the acquisition of this particular painting was controversial from the start,” Lisa Salama of Art Recognition told Artnet News. “Doubts were quickly cast on its authenticity.”
Rather than waiting for the Kunsthaus to use radiocarbon dating or watermark analysis tools to verify the authenticity of the painting, Art Recognition used its AI technology on evening landscape. The company trained its neural networks by feeding an algorithm more than 300 high-resolution images of authenticated Titians, such as Diana and Callistopreserved in the National Gallery of Scotland, and Penitent Mary Magdaleneat the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
Then they taught him to recognize fakes by seizing 300 fake Titians. Art Recognition director Carina Popovici said this method yields a 90% accuracy rate.
When the Art Recognition algorithm returned the 80% false reading on evening landscape, the startup alerted Kunsthaus. “They didn’t react,” Salama said.
“The digital AI analysis was applied without us sending a high-resolution photo, without our order and without our consent,” Kunsthaus Zürich told Artnet News. “We don’t know enough about the method, its possibilities and its limits, and the argument about our painting.”
The museum acknowledged Art Recognition’s results, saying it would be interested in learning more about the methodology.
“Ultimately, this is an interesting contrast between the critical analysis of style and the technological analysis of the authorship of a work of art,” Kunsthaus continued. “The work continues to run under ‘Titian, attributed’, which is correct and corresponds to the facts.”
For Salama, however, the benefits of using AI in authenticating art clearly outweigh traditional methods.
“It’s very accessible, i.e. fast, hassle-free (no transport, no insurance), economical, but also objective,” she wrote. “In our view, objectivity is one of our most important assets, and potentially the one that really makes the difference as we examine a market still dominated by subjectivity.”
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