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'Authentic' Project Uses Digital Technology to Foil Forgers


The Authentic Project finds another fascinating use for digital technology. Researchers are using it to understand the brains of the great artists, and in so doing they are putting forgers out of business. Paul Sisco reports.

Is it an original, or a fake? Researchers in the Netherlands are making it easier to answer that question with digital technology. Dr. Eric Postma has spent more than three years on what he calls "the Authentic Project."

"We try to copy the way the brain is processing images," he explains. "Once we process this in a human-like way, we can detect and measure similarities of patterns and then compare that to samples of other paintings. So the whole trick is a transformation from this painting in numbers in such a way that the computer can deal with them."

The 'Authentic' software program is based on the workings of the human brain.

By analyzing and digitizing high-resolution transparencies from x-rayed canvases, the software learns to recognize a painter's style, individual brushstrokes and technique - reducing the time it can take to distinguish a masterpiece from a fake.

"We analyze those characteristics of brushstrokes like the curvature and all kinds of statistics, the position of the brushstroke on the painting, the thickness of the brushstroke, the separation of the brushstroke, the repetition of the brushstrokes," explains researcher Igor Berezhnoy, "and based on those statistics we can say that this brushwork is different from the fake brush work."

Dr. Chris Stolwicjk, the head of research at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, says the software will not replace the trained judgment of the best art experts. Nevertheless, it will still help. "Image processing can be a tool in art expertise, because the computer can help us in a very quick and very precise way to determine several characteristics of the painter's hand in works of art."

Each painting that is analyzed, whether it is real or fake, adds to the software's capabilities. The "Authentic Project" is a constantly expanding library of knowledge - cataloging and compiling an artist's unique and dynamic, characteristics.

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