The age of mechanical reproduction has finally done it – killed the goose that lays the golden egg. The printing process of copying paintings has reached such sophistication that digitally editing and enhancing Old Masters weakens their authority.

Welcome to the world of the non-fungible token (NFT).

Cashing in

Four leading museums including the Uffizi are selling reproductions of paintings by Raphael and Da Vinci that can be traded as NFT’s selling for between $114,00 and $284,000.

Reportedly, this turn of events began with a London exhibit called “Eternalizing Art History,” presumably with NFTs.

But copying Renaissance paintings won’t “eternalize art history.” We’ll be lucky if the story of painting makes it into a parenthetic.

I got a peek at how reproductions of art steal the spotlight from the real thing in 2002. I was on assignment from the Robb Report to cove the opening of Guggenheim Hermitage, a new exhibit hall showing Russia’s collection of European moderns in the Venetian resort hotel in Vegas.

Guggenheim Hermitage was intended to show off Russia’s holdings of Impressionist and Post-Impressionism paintings. Architect Rem Koolhaas erected the walls of rusted Cor-Ten steel to match the reddish velvet walls of the State Hermitage Museum.

But the display didn’t show off next to the showiness of the Venetian Hotel’s glitzy faux art.

The Guggenheim Heritage didn’t last the year.

Faking it

Easel paintings of early moderns like Picasso and Gauguin looked puny and pale next to the hotel’s shiny Old Rome statuary and splashy ceiling paintings on the order of Tiepolo’s "Apollo Bringing the Bride" at the Emperor's Hall in Germany.

There was so much imitation art throughout the Venetian that Mikhail Piotrovsky, the Russian Hermitage director confided his concern: “I hope visitors to the Guggenheim Hermitage won’t see the work as faux.”

Not a chance, I thought, imagining that visitors seeing the darker palettes of the early moderns’ little easel paintings would prefer the flashiness of the faux.

That’s why I think NFTs of paintings by Raphael and Da Vinci – enhanced by digital manipulation of light and clarity – would lessen the authority of the original work.

Not everyone in the art world agrees. Bocconi University professor Guido Guerzoni said at the opening of the “Eternalize Art History” exhibition that UFTs of art is a good thing.

“Museums need revolution if they want to survive,” he pointed out that Europe’s museums lost 70 percent in gate receipts because of the pandemic. Without visitor attendance, the professor added, new strategies are needed to reach audiences.

I intended to give professor Guerzoni the last word, but his remarks raise questions. Will NFTs of Old Masters impel people to see the museum originals? And if so, won’t visitors be disappointed when they see that the original art isn’t as spiffed up as the copy?