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Stanford University
Aura: Art and Authenticity
Ongoing Exhibition

Aura: Art and Authenticity

A Mellon Curatorial Research Assistantship Project

Artist unknown (Greece), Relief of a Warrior, n.d. Marble. Gift of Esther de Lemos Morton, Margaret de Lemos Lyon, and Marie J. Storm, 1962.26

Artist unknown (Greece), Relief of a Warrior, n.d. Marble. Gift of Esther de Lemos Morton, Margaret de Lemos Lyon, and Marie J. Storm, 1962.26


What makes a work of art authentic or not? In 1935 the critic Walter Benjamin posited that art’s authenticity was inextricable from its “aura,” or the perception of its original presence:

Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as the various changes in its ownership. . . . The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity.

Questions about authenticity become puzzling, however, when we consider how some works of art change over time, or when they do not fit neatly into categories such as “ancient,” “modern,” “original,” “copy,” “genuine,” and “fake.” Some objects also come from cultural contexts where originality cannot be the litmus test of their charismatic presence. Aura: Art and Authenticity features several such works—as well as a few outright fakes—to explore the notion of authenticity in art.

This exhibition and accompanying publication and webpage are organized by Erik Yingling, Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Curatorial Research Assistant, Cantor Arts Center, and Cantor Arts Center staff. Erik is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art & Art History at Stanford University. We gratefully acknowledge support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

As the Cantor Arts Center is temporarily closed, we invite you to explore the objects in this forthcoming exhibition online in the space below.

Coffin for Female Mummy Identified as the Chantress of Amen

This coffin once belonged to a singer in the temple of Amen during the Twenty-First Dynasty of Egypt, but at a later date...

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Artist unknown (Egypt), Coffin for Female Mummy Identified as the Chantress of Amen (Amon), c. 1070 BCE–945 BCE. Wood with painted gesso relief. Gift of the Cooper Medical College, T.82.2.A-B

Relief of a Warrior

The Cantor’s Relief of a Warrior is likely a fake. We see anachronisms and stereotypes including an exaggerated “Roman nose,” and an arm...

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  Artist unknown (Greece), Relief of a Warrior, n.d. Marble. Gift of Esther de Lemos Morton, Margaret de Lemos Lyon, and Marie J. Storm, 1962.26

Scarab Attached to a Ring with Handwritten Card

In 1884, while in Paris, Leland Stanford Jr. purchased a ring in the shape of a scarab. His biographer, Herbert C. Nash, described...

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Artist unknown (Egypt), Scarab Attached to a Ring, nd. Metal and Egyptian faience or glazed stone. Stanford Family Collections, JLS.171812

Necklace with Amulets of Deities

In 1901 the Egyptologist Émile Brugsch sold Jane Stanford 273 objects from his wife’s Egyptian collection. Brugsch wrote to Jane that his wife...

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Artist unknown (Egypt), Necklace with Amulets of Deities, n.d. Egyptian faience. Stanford Family Collections, JLS.21630 (strung together with JLS.21715, JLS.21739.2, and JLS.21295)

Icon of Our Lady of Vladimir

Although this icon of the Virgin and Child imitates a famous Russian orthodox icon called “the Vladimir Mother of God,” copying did not...

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Artist unknown (Russia), Icon of Our Lady of Vladimir, c. 1600–1799. Tempera on wood and metal revetment with precious stones. Bequest of Professor Frank A. Golder, JLS.14230

Head of a King

This statue’s appearance may have multiple historical layers. The large ears and wide headdress are characteristic of pharaonic statues from the Twelfth and...

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Artist unknown (Egypt), Head of a King (likely Ptolemy VIII), 184-116 BCE. Granite. Stanford Family Collections, 1966.372

Block Statue with Cartouches of Ramses II

In 1882 the Scottish archaeologist Alexander Henry Rhind (1833–1863) observed how faux statues were being fashioned in Egypt: “The [statue] is fractured to...

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Artist unknown (Egypt), Block Statue with Cartouches of Ramses II, ancient with ancient modifications, c. 712–332 BCE, or 19th-century fake. Granodiorite. Stanford Family Collections, 1966.371

Cloth Fragment

The Latin word fabrico (to make, build, fashion) is the ancestor of words like “fabric” and “fabrication,” the latter of which came to...

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Artist unknown (Egypt?), Cloth Fragment, n.d. Fiber and thread. Stanford Family Collections, JLS.15401
Aura: Art and Authenticity Exhibition Talk

Virtual Exhibition Talk

This virtual talk complements the digital exhibition Aura: Art and Authenticity. In conversation: Peter Tokofsky, Director of Academic and Public Programs; Patrick Crowley, Ph.D., Assistant Curator of European Art; and Erik Yingling, Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Curatorial Research Assistant.

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Exhibition Brochure

Click to view the Aura: Art and Authenticity brochure online.
We gratefully acknowledge support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Although the museum is temporarily closed, our digital doors are always open.

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Map and Directions

The Cantor Arts Center is located at the intersection of Museum Way and Lomita Drive in the heart of the arts district on the Stanford campus. The Cantor faces the Bing Concert Hall across Palm Drive, northwest of The Oval and the Main Quad.

328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5060

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Parking

Parking is limited. Visitor parking is available on Lomita Drive and in a nearby parking structure at Roth Way and Campus Drive. On weekdays until 4PM visitors may use marked, metered spots. On weekdays after 4PM and all day on weekends, visitor parking is free and visitors may also use A and C permit spaces.

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