"Crucifiction " [sic]

Fresco, Syria

Attributed to Anonymous until 1978.

In one of the most blatant Oops! moments of recent art history scholarship, this revered 6th-century fresco on the carefully-preserved wall of a diner in Ma'arrat an Nu'mān in Syria was proved to be an indisputable forgery in the August, 1978 issue of the journal Art-cheology, after a 9-year-long study by Morris bin al-Dindin of the Syrian Institute of Ancient Frescoes, Murals, Encaustics, Varnishes and Acrylics.


The first hint that the mural might be fraudulent came from the title, which, even in Old Syriac, is a puzzling misspelling, almost as though the forger were drawing attention to the counterfeit nature of the work by referring to it cryptically as a "fiction." 


The second, and ultimately deciding clue was the presence of the clearly identified "Norman" as part of the central grouping of figures. The presence of the Roman legionnaire on the right side of the main cross piercing the side of the deceased Jesus is narrated in the Gospel of John, but the presence on the left side of yet another spear-wielder has no scriptural reference.


 Equally puzzling is the garment worn by this figure. Unlike the Middle-Eastern robes worn by the other men, the "Norman" figure appears to be wearing 12th-century Gallic court dress with 16th-century Spanish pirate boots. Odder yet is the figure's hair and beard styles, which are a mid-19th-century London bohemian cut. "Norman" also bears an uncomfortable resemblance to American actor Douglas Fairbanks, Sr, particularly in his 1924 role as The Thief of Baghdad


Al-Dindin's bold and insightful article led to the cutting-off of funding for the preservation and restoration of the mural and the subsequent closing of the diner, whose Fresco Friday Specials no longer had the drawing power they once did.
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¹Acquisition sponsored by Damascus Distilleries, importers of Old Syriac brand whiskey and Damascene Blade condoms.

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