The mystery conman - the murky business of counterfeit antiques | DocFilm | DW | 09.02.2016

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The mystery conman - the murky business of counterfeit antiques

For years, a talented fraudster smuggled counterfeit antiques onto the art market. His identity remains a mystery, known only as the Spanische Meister. Will the truth ever come out?

Watch video 42:34

The Mystery Conman

25.01.2016 DW Doku Der spanische Meister 01

Archeologist Stefan Lehmann at the University of Halle researching suspected counterfeits. They’re said to have come from expert forger, the Spanische Meister.

This documentary follows archeologist Stefan Lehmann from the University of Halle near Leipzig, who’s been trying to track him down. Around 40 counterfeits have been discovered so far in the industry, in collections and even in museums. But Lehmann believes it’s just the tip of the iceberg. No one knows who or where the perpetrator is, but they suspect the workshop to be in southern Europe, perhaps Italy or Spain. German experts have therefore dubbed him the Spanische Meister, or “Spanish Master”.

25.01.2016 DW Doku Der spanische Meister 02

This bronze head of Augustus could be a forgery by the Spanische Meister, who’s accused of smuggling dozens of counterfeits onto the market.

Lehmann hasn’t made himself popular – people within the art trade and museums like to keep the topic of counterfeiting under the carpet. A Swiss collector, who wishes to remain anonymous, came to Lehmann with strong doubts about an “antique” bronze head of Augustus he bought on the New York art market for several hundred thousand dollars. Lehmann was sent the artefact to examine in Halle as the first case of its kind. The object was X-rayed at the Fraunhofer Institute using the most powerful linear accelerator in Europe to back up any accusations of forgery with a reliable scientific analysis.

25.01.2016 DW Doku Der spanische Meister 04

Swiss art dealer Christoph Leon says up to 50 percent of antiques on the market are fakes.

The art industry could have a lot to hide. But Christoph Leon, an antique dealer from Basel, has decided to do something unusual. He’s working with Lehmann to give him insider knowledge. We’re in the midst of a heyday for counterfeiting, he says. In the documentary, DW reporter Sönje Storm follows the trail of the Spanische Meister and takes us on a journey through the secretive world of the antiques trade.

The film is a co-production from DW, RBB and SRF.

Broadcasting Hours:


SUN 07.02.2016 – 19:15 UTC
MON 08.02.2016 – 01:15 UTC
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