What was reportedly an innocent joke by three students turned into one of the greatest hoax stories ever, with news of the discovery of ‘missing’ heads by painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani in Livorno’s canal making headlines around the world and attracting visitors to the city.
It was the summer of 1984, and an exhibition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Modigliani’s birth in his hometown had begun on a lacklustre note.
So in an effort to drum up more enthusiasm, the organizer, Vera Durbé, decided to fund a search for the carved heads that Modigliani is said to have hurled into the Fosse Reale canal after receiving negative reviews.
A week into the search, three sculptures were found at the bottom of the canal, prompting Durbé to announce they were Modigliani originals, a declaration that attracted hundreds of visitors to the city.
But art historian Federico Zeri cast doubt on their authenticity, saying they were so “immature” that Modigliani had been right to cast them aside.
The three students later confessed to producing one of them with a Black & Decker drill, while the other two were made by a local artist.
Preparation of the exhibit will begin on June 6th in a room in the Fortezza Vecchia, although the show’s start date is yet to be revealed, according to a report by the Italian news agency Ansa.
The show will also include clippings from newspaper reports about the famous hoax.
Thirty years on, organizer's are hoping the story will attract visitors.
"For a long time we have wanted to tell a story that was unique in the 20th century and is sure to be a tourist attraction," Mario Tredici, the culture councillor for Livorno, was quoted by Ansa as saying.
Modigliani was born in Livorno in 1884. He is said to have fled to Paris in 1909, angered by negative reviews of this work. He died there, aged 35, of tubercular meningitis.