The Doctor, Romana and Duggan have found a painting hidden behind a panel in the basement of Count Scarlioni’s house in Paris.
“It’s the Mona Lisa!” says the Doctor.
“Must be a fake,” replies Duggan.
The Doctor says he doesn’t know what’s currently hanging in the Louvre, “but this is the genuine article”.
Duggan’s astonishment increases when the Doctor folds back yet more panelling to reveal yet another Mona Lisa. And another. And another. Eventually, six identical copies are revealed.
“They must be fakes,” says Duggan again.
“The brushwork’s Leonardo’s,” the Doctor asserts, “It’s as characteristic as a signature. The pigment, too.”
“What,” blithers Duggan, “on all of them?”
“What I don’t understand is why a man who’s got six Mona Lisas wants to go to all the trouble of stealing a seventh.” (The Count has been casing the Louvre, preparing to steal their Mona Lisa.)
This is Duggan’s area. “Come on, Doctor, I’ve just told you. There are seven people who would buy the Mona Lisa in secret, but nobody’s going to buy the Mona Lisa when it’s hanging in the Louvre!”
“Of course,” says Romana, “They’d each have to think they were buying the stolen one.”
Because only ‘the original’ is valuable. These collectors wouldn’t even want the Mona Lisa to sell or to display… they’d want it for – to use Duggan’s phrase – the “expensive gloat”.
But where does the value of the work of art lie? In its ‘authenticity’? Huge amounts of time, effort, money and research are expended to establish the ‘authenticity’ of artworks; their provenance and history, tracing back to their origins. Experts compete over the ‘authenticity’ of various iterations of a single painting, fighting over which institution owns the ‘real’ one. Duggan, the private detective hired to investigate art as a catalyst of crime, responds to the Mona Lisas found by the Doctor with an instantaneous attempt to evaluate their ‘authenticity’, and hence their ‘value’. (A set of assumptions that the Doctor explicitly rejects later in the show, when he mocks the idea that a painting needs to be x-rayed before its value can be ascertained.)
In the modern age, the ‘age of mechanical reproduction‘ as Walter Benjamin put it, the artwork is viewed in a new and historically unique way. The camera destroyed the idea of timeless images arranged for a single spectator. The photographic representation cast painting adrift, since it usurped the painter’s role as portrayer of the patron’s property and ideology. Mass-reproduction of images destroyed the “aura” of a work of art (Benjamin’s word for its unique and materially-intact history), making it seperable from its original time and place and locational context. The Mona Lisa, for instance, proliferated around the world. It is now no longer to be found in the Louvre. It is all over millions of greetings cards, the pages of magazines, the pages of books, posters, tourists’ photos, the internet, the covers of execrable paperback novels. All this raises the fame of the painting while destroying its singular and unitary itselfness. …