www.AfricanArtAuthenticity.com  (last update: 06/08/2013)


The Museo d'Arte e Scienza and its scientific laboratory


The Museo d’Arte e Scienza was founded in 1990 as a teaching museum with the aim of offering art collectors the possibility of distinguishing authentic items from copies and fakes in all areas of antiques.
To further serve this purpose, in 1993 the Museum set up a scientific laboratory fitted with the latest equipment.

In many fields of art the authenticity of an object is closely connected to its age. It is a well-known fact that African artists carved their masks and figures out of wood cut from freshly-felled trees. Determining the age of the wood therefore permits us to establish an item’s age.

A very valid method used for ascertaining the age of a wooden object is IR spectroscopy. This method has been elaborated by the Museum’s laboratory and intensely applied also to African art.

(For information on the G. Matthaes collections visit www.Matthaes.org)



The Museum laboratory’s mission is to improve existing scientific methods and elaborate new methods for the ascertainment of the authenticity of art objects.

The ascertainment of the age of wooden African art objects
at the laboratory of the Museo d'Arte e Scienza

Dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating methods present severe limitations when applied to African objects. Very few African woods develop growth rings and the C14 method does not give univocal dating results in the case of items made in the last 350 years. This circumstance has been noted and acknowledged for over 50 years.

Spectroscopy is therefore the only method available
for dating African wooden objects.

The ascertainment of type and age of wood:
spectroscopic dating 
and spectrographic classification of wood

Surface test for the verification of the use of already old wood

A section of the laboratory

Instructions on how to take wood samples
for dating African objects

For dating purposes a sample of only a few milligrams of wood dust is needed, which has to be taken fairly deep in the wood and after having removed the first 2-3 mm of the surface.

To take the samples use a normal electric drill having a milling-bit with a diameter of about 2.5 mm (generally available in all hardware stores), possibly like the one shown in the picture, which produces a hole of the same dimensions as a woodworm hole.The wood powder must be gathered on a piece of white paper, which is to be folded carefully, sealed and mailed directly to the Museum laboratory.
Choose the parts to be dated with care: give preference to those which are more significant and best preserved, avoiding areas excessively damaged by woodworm or contaminated.
With statues, avoid the bases on which they stand, as these are often deeply corroded or contaminated (see figs. A and B).
Samples from the surface for verifying the use of old wood must be taken at the laboratory of the Museum or by an authorized person.

For further information: Museo d’Arte e Scienza (Silvia Mayer), Via Q. Sella 4, I - 20121 Milano.
T. +39 02 72022488 – Fax +39 02 72023156 – e-Mail: info@museoartescienza.com

Useful information for African art collectors 

The value of art expertise
in the scientific age

The judgement of a renowned expert or a famous auction house has, at times, the magic power to push an article’s market value up by as much as a thousandfold. Thus a fine piece of furniture, a painting or an African mask may just as easily cost €1,000 or €1,000,000. This disconcerting difference in value estimates is becoming increasingly common in the international market. This would be conceivable if the appraisal were based on meaningful and verifiable data. Unfortunately this is not always the case.

€ 4,500  


€ 5,000,000
Auction of June 18, 2006

Today gallery owners and art dealers are, in fact, in a position to complement their expert opinions with accurate scientific certificates, thus providing a more dependable guarantee of safer and fairer purchases than the large auction houses.
A valid method - IR Spectroscopy -  the most widely used analytical method in the chemical industry and in scientific research laboratories, has existed for decades. Get further and detailed information from our web site:  www.SpectroscopyforArt.com

African art objects as an investment

Tribal art occupies a decidedly special position respecting other fields of antiques. A fine piece of furniture, for instance, even if resulting inauthentic, remains nonetheless a useful and decorative item of furniture. Instead a mask or a figure which is found to be a fake becomes just a dubious and worthless piece of carved wood.
Only authenticity
lends value to a black African art object.

he evaluation of African art collections

The scientific laboratory of the Museo d'Arte e Scienza of Milan receives orders from all over the world for the dating of African art objects from a wide range of collections and dealers. An analysis of the results of spectroscopic dating provides an interesting clue to the quality of private and professional collections at both the national and international level. For example: in the 4 months from May to August 2006 the laboratory analysed 506 African art objects representing 8 different large orders, 3 of which from major private collections, 2 from medium-sized private collections and 3 from art galleries (single dating results were not considered for statistical purposes)

Wood age /
Year of production


Average age (in years)

Number of items from private collections

Number of items from galleries etc.



Before 1900





1900 - 1925 





1925 - 1945





1945 - 1960





1960 - 1975





1975 - 2005







Total 259

Total 247


Authenticity: legend (excluding appraisal of artistic value)
a) Rare and authentic items  - b) Highly credible items - c) Good probability of authenticity
d) Further investigation advisable  - e) Only very few objects of this age authentic
f) Almost certainly fakes

Please note: the relatively high percentage of copies and fakes present in the collections of art dealers and other experts is not to be attributed to an insufficient knowledge of the subject. Even the finest experts are often in doubt about the authenticity of items they examine. The explanation is simple and compelling: 80% of the figures and masks available on the market today were produced in about 70 years between 1890 and 1960, and in this brief span of time these objects did not always develop visibly evident signs of age due to wear, atmospheric conditions or damage by insects etc. Only the natural process of the wood’s decay, measured by scientific tests, permits certain dating.

Provenance as guarantee of a good buy in African art  

Prov.: E.J. Pfifferfeld Collection (fake)

In most cases the provenance indicated is the collection to which an item originally belonged. The most significant collections of African art are owned by museums. The presence of copies in museums is a well-known problem, despite the valid experts at their disposal.
Collectors of African art are generally self-taught and have learnt their skills by trial and error. Over the years, inauthentic items are sorted out and sold on the market. This is why the risk attached to the purchase of single objects coming from collections is very high. Of interest, instead, are items offered for sale on the occasion of the liquidation of entire collections of note. Given the perfection reached today by fakers, the only safe way to ensure a good buy is offered by scientific spectroscopic age-dating, a precise and low cost method which is easy to apply, and, for important objects, by the scientific determination of authenticity analysing the patina and the material. 


Further analyses made by the laboratory

- the distinction of materials 

Spectrographic tests for the identification of the material






Microscopic tests for examination of the surface, patina and wear

Since 2007, all types of ivory can in fact be dated by spectroscopy.
For information see www.IvoryAuthenticityandAge.com

Excavated African pottery

microscopic tests

remains of slip

  petrified roots

ascertainment of authenticity  through the analysis of the encrustations left by the soil

a) authentic encrustations
b) artificial encrustations with lime, cement or glue


microscopic and macro photographic tests on:

micro crystallizations, remains of earth, cracks, petrified roots, wear;

spectrographic analyses of earth, encrustations and colours


(a) micro crystals and remains of earth


(b) remains of dried roots


African Bronzes

Microscopic and macro photographic tests on patinas, corrosion and casting core

The enlarged aspect of an authentic and antique surface.

Remains of casting core. The core proves the uniqueness of the object.

Corrosion layers of the excavated bronze horse (red cuprite and green malachite).


Chemical and spectrographic analyses

spectrographic curve of:
a) clay from an authentic core
b) false core with glue 


spectrographic curve of:
a) green patina of malachite
b) artificial green colour

For further information: www.AuthenticAfricanBronzesandCeramics.com


The patina

spectrographic test of patina composition

microscopic and macro photographic tests to determine wear and damage caused by time

a) sap-based patina with natural additives
b) synthetic varnishes

craquelure of the black patina


flaking of patina and abrasions



microscopic tests and spectroscopic analyses on
colours, encrustations, wear and additional material


NOTE: the cost of analyses is 100-150 € per test; some tests are conclusive in telling fake and authentic items apart, such as wood dating and tests on the encrustations on pottery and bronzes.







All the wooden objects on exhibit have been dated
using the IR spectroscopic method.





Main contents of the book
.....The round or natural style is the most ancient Black African art style, whilst a style hailed as primitive ("abstract") could be directed at the Western market and lovers of modern painting. Of great interest might be the comments on what is judged as "colonial" and "decadent" and the concepts of "straight lines" and "rare"....
Masks -
Dan, Yoruba, Ibo, Songye, Ekoi, Bambara, Senufo, Fang...Helmets, Headdresses, Two-faced, Zoomorphic and Ritual Dance Masks.
Figures -
Facial expressions on masks and figures, The development of Dogon art, Baule spirit spouses, Man, Woman and their different social status, Couples, Ibeji twin figures.
The cult -
The fertility cult, The funeral and divination cults.
Musical instruments
Receptacles and other utensils of artistic value
Objects in bronze and other metals
The art of the Ife and Benin kingdoms
Stone figures
Terracotta figures and heads
The Authenticity of African Art -
Artworks in Wood, Bronze, Stone, Terracotta and Ivory: Dating, Corrosion, Fake corrosion, Abrasion, Patinas, Paints, Manufacturing process, Restoration.


Beauty and Authenticity in African Art

Beauty can be neither explained nor experienced through words.….

For this reason the author has intentionally reduced text and comments to a minimum, illustrating the beauty of African art in over two hundred large colour photographs of valuable items belonging to the renowned Matthaes collection, now conserved and exhibited in five rooms of the Museo d'Arte e Scienza in Milan.

At the end of 2007, the Management of the Museo d'Arte e Scienza decided to assemble a catalogue also for the African section, which was to include both an assessment of the beauty and an evaluation of the authenticity of the objects. The idea was to capitalize on the long personal experience gained over the years and the results obtained by the Museum's scientific laboratory, using the finest equipment and most advanced analytical methods for the determination of authenticity.

Initially intended to be published in two volumes, the work was united in a single volume of 384 pages with over 300 objects dated using the IR spectroscopic method and illustrated in as many artistic colour photographs. Price: Euro 70 + delivery charges.


For information and orders please email info@museoartescienza.com
or phone us on 0039 02 72022488




Requests may be sent, as always, directly to the Milan laboratory at the following address:

Museo d’Arte e Scienza
Via Q. Sella 4 – 20121 Milano
Tel. 0039 02 72022488
Fax 0039 02 72023156
e-mail: info@museoartescienza.com






some views of the PREVIOUS exhibition


 Room 14

 Woman's world

 Subjects treated in the room: wedding gifts, the position of woman in society, motherhood, fertility, kitchen utensils, feminine featured masks, the Baule’s wooden spouses

some views of the room



Rooms 15 -16

 Subjects treated in room 15:  The world of masks -the meaning of masks, multi-faced masks, masks inspiring respect, zoomorphic masks, memorial masks.
Subjects treated in room 16: The cult -
oracles, divining plates, mouse oracles, the priest and the diviner – the funeral cult, funerary statues, memorial heads, shrines

some views of the rooms





 Room 17

 Didactic Room

Subjects treated in the room: recognizing authentic items – the mutual influence of contacts between the western world and the African continent  

some views of the room





 Room 18

Man's world

Subjects treated in the room: men’s meeting houses, the hunter – symbols of power, musical instruments, coins  

some views of the room

Via Q. Sella,4 -20121 Milano-  Piazza Castello
Opening times: Mon-Fri: 10:00-18:00        Entrance: Euro 8 - reduced Euro 4
For Information
: Tel:+390272022488  Fax:+390272023156   e-mail: info@museoartescienza.com



Acknowledged value
of the Museum’s scientific laboratory and its methods
for determining authenticity

Attitudes towards and use of scientific methods are influenced by local laws and customs.

Basis of judgment: the situation in Italy (where the Museum is located)

The prime institution for the fight against forgery and imitations is the Guardia di Finanza or Financial Police. The recent catalogue on the determination of authenticity in art, published by the same in June 2007, contains an exclusive six-page presentation of the scientific laboratory of the Museo d’Arte e Scienza in which its methods for dating paintings, furniture, and objects in ivory and other materials are illustrated in detail and their validity, in effect, endorsed.

Judicial proceedings. The probatory value of the spectroscopic dating method is crucial to the outcome of civil and penal judgments involving the determination of the actual age of art works.



The numerous advantages of the collector of African art.

African art is as yet not subject to the limitations of international law. A collector is absolutely free to buy whatever he wants wherever he pleases, on trips, at markets, in art galleries or at auction sales.

His chief advantage respecting collectors of other types of art consists however in the fact that he can verify scientifically, in a safe and simple manner, the authenticity of his new purchase (something which is unthinkable, for example, for items in glass or porcelain, or graphic art, etc.) The peaks of an IR spectrum reveal the truth about the type and quality of the material from which an item is made and, increasingly, its age.

Confirmation of this possibility of accurate dating was given by Ingo Barlovic in his address in Göttingen* on 26.10.2008, in which he discussed the test of the reliability of the IR spectroscopic dating method applied by the scientific laboratory of the Museo d’Arte e Scienza of Milan, concluding that 18 results out of 21 proved to be correct, whilst in the case of one “incorrect” result there was a good probability that the wood used to make the item was already old (in which case the result would be accurate).

This points to an accuracy rate of almost 90%, a rate which could not be reached by any other dating method.

The African art collector has made a good buy with good future prospects.

*The meeting held in Göttingen was the last before that held in Zurich on 31.05.2009, where the reliability of spectroscopic dating was once again critically examined.

Address on the reliability of dating methods
by Ingo Barlovic, Göttingen, 26.10.2008

Abstract in English language

Comments and answers of Dr. Peter Matthaes
director of the scientific laboratory


www.MuseoArteScienza.com - Sections of the "Museo d'Arte e Scienza": 6 rooms dedicated to the ascertainment of authenticity in art and antiques, 5 rooms on Leonardo da Vinci's "Treatise on Painting" and his activities in Milan, 5 rooms dedicated to African Art and Buddhist Art, 2 Scientific Laboratories.

www.LeonardoDaVinciMilano.com - Two permanent exhibitions: "Leonardo Citizen of Milan" and  "Appreciating Art through the Eyes of Leonardo" from his "Treatise on Painting".

www.AuthenticAfricanBronzesandCeramics.com -  Dedicated to the authenticity of African artworks in bronze, stone and pottery. The scientific laboratory of the Museo d’Arte e Scienza has developed valid methods for telling authentic African objects from copies and fakes.

www.ArtAndScienceHandbook.com - The most complete and scientifically valid guide to ascertaining the authenticity of European and non-European antiques on an objective basis (540 pages and more than 2,000 colour illustrations in 3 volumes and 3 languages).

www.Paintingsauthenticity.com - Information on the authenticity of modern paintings and antique paintings.

www.MobiliAntichiAutentictà.com - A list of possible methods for determining the authenticity of furniture based on objective factors.

www.Excavatedartauthenticity.com - "A list of all the possible ways of determining, on the basis of objective factors, the authenticity of excavated pottery, glass or bronze items from Southern Italy, the Mediterranean Basin, China and South America.".

www.SpectroscopyforArt.com - A scientific method for the dating of wood and identification of the wood type used for art objects. Determination of their authenticity through analysis of colours, binders, pigments and other organic substances.  

www.Matthaes.org  - The history of the G. Matthaes Foundation from the opening of the painting school in Dresden in 1906 up to the "Museo d'Arte e Scienza" in Milan.

www.CopiesAndFakesInArt.com - Ample further descriptions for ascertaining authenticity in art in the individual fields of antiques.

www.IvoryAuthenticityAndAge.com - Ivory, bone and horn can now be spectroscopically dated and accurately identified.

www.AmiciMuseoArteScienza.org - An association of the Museum founded in 2010 to patronize and promote the restoration and preservation of works of art and the development of appropriate scientific methods for determining their authenticity.

www.arteautentica.it - The Museum's scientific laboratory is in charge of the investigation of the authenticity in art and antiques and is available to individuals, collectors, art experts, restorers and museums.



Museo d’Arte e Scienza di Gottfried Matthaes S.R.L.
Sede legale e amministrativa: Via Q. Sella 4 – 20121 Milano
Partita IVA e Codice Fiscale 03191710106
C.C.I.A.A MILANO: 1343958 – Cap. sociale € 180.759,91