The New Yorker has a long piece on the complicated world of art forgeries, “The Mark of a Masterpiece.” In it the author, David Grann observes,
When a forgery is exposed, people in the art world generally have the same reaction: how could anyone have been fooled by something so obviously phony, so artless? Few connoisseurs still think that Han van Meegeren’s paintings look at all like Vermeers, or even have any artistic value. Gorgers usually succeed not because they are so talented but, rather, because they provide, at a moment in time, exactly what others desperately want to see. Conjurers as much as copyists, they fulfill a wish or a fantasy. And so the inconsistencies – crooked signatures, uncharacteristic brushstrokes – are ignored or explained away.
The art world parallels the religious world. What were people, including the pope, so desperate to see that they were taken in by such a transparent phony at Maciel?