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The Juncture of Math and Art

February 13, 2010

Joe Palca for NPR:

Determining what is real and what is fake has long been a problem for art curators. It is estimated that 20 percent of the worldwide art market is made up of forgeries. But art lover and Dartmouth College mathematics department Chairman Daniel Rockmore has developed a technique that is helping to determine the difference between excellent copy and the real McCoy.

“I joke a lot that I am a mathematician by mistake,” says Rockmore. “It was something that I had an aptitude at, but I’ve always had lots of interests.” One thing Rockmore is particularly interested in is art. And a few years ago, his professional skills and personal interest collided.

In 2001, through a friend, Rockmore met Nadine Orenstein, a curator of prints and drawings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. At the time, Orenstein was working on an exhibition of the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a Flemish painter from the 16th century. She invited Rockmore to the museum to see the show.

The exhibition featured both drawings by Bruegel and several that had long been attributed to him, but that historians later suspected were drawn by others. “Our exhibition was really the first time we were getting together in one place all of the drawings by Bruegel and the ones that were no longer considered to be by him,” says Orenstein. Rockmore says it was at this exhibit that he realized how his mathematical training could intersect with his love of art. [More]

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