Matthew Gillman is a seventh-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology. His current research approaches topics that might be termed “art crime,” while critically assessing the legal and aesthetic frameworks underlying such a label. In 2020-21, with the support of a Sakıp Sabancı Center Dissertation Fellowship, he will complete a dissertation entitled “Medieval Glass and the Aesthetics of Simulation,” which traces a longue durée history of counterfeit gemstones. Beyond the degree, he is also working on a trade nonfiction book based on the life of an art forger.
Before coming to Columbia, Matthew earned a B.A. with honors in Near Eastern Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.A. at the University of Chicago.
“Medieval Glass and the Aesthetics of Simulation” deconstructs the modern notion of counterfeiting through a history of imitation gemstones. The first half of the project focuses on the Byzantine and Abbasid glass industries in the late 8th to 9th centuries. It considers, among other issues, how the production of glass “gems” could satisfy either luxury or scrupulousness, two competing lifestyles of the day. The second half follows a single gemlike object, produced during this time, on a centuries’-long journey from Iraq to Anatolia to Italy. Its vicissitudes illustrate the onset of negative attitudes toward lookalike materials, driven by developments in case law, scientific thought, and glassmaking techniques, particularly from the Seljuq period onward.