Modigliani's Heads

One of the Greatest Hoaxes in the History of Italian Art

The False Heads on display in 1984 The False Heads on display in 1984 In 1909 artist Amedeo Modigliani left Livorno for Paris, embittered by the negative reviews he had received from art critics and fellow citizens. The story goes that someone even advised him to throw his sculptures away, they were worth so little, and at this Modigliani tossed some of his carved busts into Livorno's Fosso Reale canal near his home

In 1984, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Modigliani's birth, an exhibition was organised in Livorno to celebrate the artist's work. The event did not attract as much attention as expected, so the organiser, Vera Durbé, along with Livorno city council, decided to finance a search for the famous missing busts.

After eight days of excavations, a granite carved bust was actually discovered in the silt at the bottom of the canal. A few hours later two more were dug up, all apparently in Modigliani's distinctive style.

Vera Durbé and her brother Dario, curator of the Modern Art Gallery of Rome, declared their certainty that the works were Modigliani originals. As a result, Livorno was invaded by the media and sightseers, and critics everywhere highlighted the importance of the find.

Only the art historian Federico Zeri stated that the sculptures were so 'immature' that even if they were authentic, Modigliani had been right to throw them away

It was only then that three Livornese students - Pietro Luridiani, Michele Ghelarducci and Pierfrancesco Ferrucci - came forward, claiming to have made one of these heads themselves, in their back garden with a Black & Decker drill! They provided photographic evidence of their work, and were invited onto national television to demonstrate how they had done it. To add to the fiasco, a local artist, Angelo Froglia, claimed authorship of the other two heads, saying that he had merely intended to expose the judgement of art experts as overrated.

The critics continued to insist on the works' authenticity for a while, but the evidence against them was overwhelming. Livorno and the rest of the world had witnessed one of the greatest hoaxes in Italian art history.