Salvator Mundi (Leonardo)
|English: Savior of the World|
|Artist||Leonardo da Vinci|
|Type||Oil on walnut panel|
|Dimensions||45.4 cm × 65.6 cm (25.8 in × 19.2 in)|
|Owner||Acquired by Abu Dhabi's Department of Culture and Tourism for Louvre Abu Dhabi. Currently owned by Mohammad bin Salman|
Salvator Mundi is a painting by Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci dated to c. 1500. Long thought to be a copy of a lost original veiled with overpainting, it was rediscovered, restored, and included in a major Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery, London, in 2011–12. Although most leading scholars have considered it to be an original work by Leonardo, this attribution has been disputed by other specialists, some of whom posit that he only contributed certain elements.
The painting depicts Jesus in Renaissance dress, making the sign of the cross with his right hand, while holding a transparent, non-refracting crystal orb in his left, signaling his role as Salvator Mundi (Latin for 'Savior of the World') and representing the 'celestial sphere' of the heavens. Around 20 other variations of the work are known, by students and followers of Leonardo. Preparatory chalk and ink drawings of the drapery by Leonardo are held in the British Royal Collection.
It is one of fewer than 20 known works by Leonardo, and was the only one to remain in a private collection. It was sold at auction for $450.3 million on 15 November 2017 by Christie's in New York to Prince Badr bin Abdullah, setting a new record for most expensive painting ever sold at public auction. Prince Badr allegedly made the purchase on behalf of Abu Dhabi's Department of Culture and Tourism, but it has since been posited that he may have been a stand-in bidder for his close ally and Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. This follows late-2017 reports that the painting would be put on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the unexplained cancellation of its scheduled September 2018 unveiling. The current location of the painting has been reported as unknown, but a June 2019 report stated that it was being stored on bin Salman's luxury yacht, pending completion of a cultural center in Al-`Ula and an October 2019 report indicated it may be in storage in Switzerland.
Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi may have been painted for Louis XII of France and his consort, Anne of Brittany. It was probably commissioned around 1500, shortly after Louis conquered the Duchy of Milan and took control of Genoa in the Second Italian War. Leonardo himself moved from Milan to Florence in 1500. Various copies of the painting were made by followers of Leonardo including his pupil Salaì (1511). Some versions differ significantly from the original, with a few, including one by his pupil Marco d'Oggiono (c. 1500) and another by Salaì[a] depicting a more youthful subject.[b]
Leonardo's painting seems to have been at James Hamilton's Chelsea Manor in London from 1638 to 1641. After participating in the English Civil War, Hamilton was executed on 9 March 1649 and some of his possessions were taken to the Netherlands to be sold. Bohemian artist Wenceslaus Hollar could have made his engraved copy, dated 1650, in Antwerp at that time.[c] It was also recorded in Henrietta Maria's possession in 1649,[d] the same year her husband Charles I was executed, on 30 January. The painting was included in an inventory of the Royal Collection,[e] valued at £30, and Charles' possessions were put up for sale under the English Commonwealth. The painting was sold to a creditor in 1651, returned to Charles II after the English Restoration in 1660, and included in an inventory of Charles' possessions at the Palace of Whitehall in 1666. It was inherited by James II, and may have remained with him until it passed to his mistress Catherine Sedley, whose illegitimate daughter with James became the third wife of John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham. The duke's illegitimate son, Sir Charles Herbert Sheffield, auctioned the painting in 1763 along with other artworks from Buckingham House when the building was sold to George III.
The painting was likely placed in a gilded frame in the 19th century, which it remained in until 2005. It was bought by British collector Francis Cook in 1900 for his collection at Doughty House in Richmond. The painting had been damaged from previous restoration attempts and was attributed to Bernardino Luini, a follower of Leonardo. Cook's great-grandson sold it at auction in 1958 for £45 as a work by Leonardo's pupil Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, whom the painting remained attributed to until 2011.
Rediscovery and restoration
Salvator Mundi is one of Leonardo's most copied paintings, with about 12 known examples executed by his pupils and others. Leonardo's version was thought to have been lost after the mid-17th century. In 1978, Joanne Snow-Smith developed a compelling case that the supposed copy located in the Marquis Jean-Louis de Ganay Collection, Paris, was the lost original based on its similarity to Saint John the Baptist.[g] Many art historians were convinced, as she was able to establish a direct historical connection between Leonardo da Vinci, the engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar and the painting in the Ganay collection.
In 2005, a Salvator Mundi was presented and acquired at an auction for less than $10,000 (€8,450) by a consortium of art dealers that included Alexander Parrish and Robert Simon, a specialist in Old Masters. It was sold from the estate of Baton Rouge businessman Basil Clovis Hendry Sr., at the St. Charles Gallery auction house in New Orleans. It had been heavily overpainted so it looked like a copy, and was, before restoration, described as "a wreck, dark and gloomy".
The consortium believed there was a possibility that this seemingly low-quality work might actually be the long-missing da Vinci original. They commissioned Dianne Dwyer Modestini at New York University to oversee the restoration. She began by removing the overpainting with acetone, leading her to discover that at some point, a stepped area of unevenness near Christ's face had been shaved down with a sharp object, and also leveled with a mixture of gesso, paint and glue. Using infrared photographs Simon had taken of the painting, Modestini discovered a pentimento (earlier draft) of the painting which had the blessing hand's thumb in a straight, rather than curved, position. The discovery that Christ had two thumbs on his right hand was crucial. This pentimento (literally 'repent') showed the artist had a second thought about the positioning of the thumb. Such a second thought is considered evidence that this is not a copy but indeed an original, since copiers would have no doubts about composition.
Modestini proceeded to have panel specialist Monica Griesbach chisel off a marouflaged wood panel which had been tunnelled through by worms, causing the painting to break into seven pieces. Griesbach reassembled the painting with adhesive and wood slivers. In late 2006, Modestini began her restoration effort. Art historian Martin Kemp was critical of the result: "Both thumbs" of the painting's raw state "are rather better than the one painted by Dianne." The work was subsequently authenticated as a painting by Leonardo. From November 2011 through February 2012, the painting was exhibited at the National Gallery as a work by Leonardo da Vinci, after authentication by that facility. In 2012, it was also authenticated by the Dallas Museum of Art.[h]
In May 2013, the Swiss dealer Yves Bouvier purchased the painting for just over US$75 million (in a private sale brokered by Sotheby's, New York). The painting was then sold to Russian collector Dmitry Rybolovlev for US$127.5 million. The price that Rybolovev paid was therefore significantly higher, well beyond the 2 percent commission Bouvier was supposed to receive, according to Dmitry Rybolovlev. Consequently, this sale—along with several other sales Bouvier made to Rybolovlev—created a legal dispute between Rybolovlev and Bouvier, as well as between the original dealers of the painting and Sotheby's. In 2016, the dealers sued Sotheby's for the difference of the sale, arguing they were shortchanged. The auction house has denied knowing that Rybolovlev was the intended buyer, and sought to dismiss the lawsuit. In 2018, Rybolovlev also sued Sotheby's for $380 million, alleging the auction house knowingly participated in a defrauding scheme by Bouvier, in which the painting played a part. Unearthed email exchanges between Bouvier and the auction house seem to confirm this, according to Rybolovlev's lawyers.
It was exhibited in Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and New York in 2017, and then sold at auction at Christie's in New York on 15 November 2017 for $450,312,500,[i] a new record price for an artwork (hammer price $400 million plus $50.3 million in fees). The purchaser was identified as Saudi Arabian prince Badr bin Abdullah. In December 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that Prince Badr was an intermediary for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. However, Christie's confirmed that Prince Badr acted on behalf of Abu Dhabi's Department of Culture and Tourism for display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. In September 2018, the exhibition was indefinitely postponed, and a January 2019 news report indicated that "no one knows where it is, and there are grave concerns for its physical safety." Georgina Adam, editor at large of The Art Newspaper, dismissed these reports, stating that "We believe it's in storage in Geneva." It was later reported to be on a luxury yacht belonging to bin Salman, sailing on the Red Sea as of June 2019.
Just as the painting did not appear at the Abu Dhabi Louvre in 2018, it was not included in the Louvre's Paris exhibition of Leonardo works held from 24 October 2019 to 24 February 2020. A full 11 of the fewer than 20 paintings that da Vinci completed in his lifetime were displayed.
About a year into her restoration effort, Dianne Dwyer Modestini noted that color transitions in the subject's lips were "perfect" and that "no other artist could have done that." Upon studying the Mona Lisa for comparison, she concluded that "The artist who painted her was the same hand that had painted the Salvator Mundi."
In 2006, National Gallery director Nicholas Penny wrote that he and some of his colleagues considered the work a Leonardo original, but that "some of us consider that there may be [parts] which are by the workshop." Penny conducted a side-by-side study of the Salvator Mundi and Virgin of the Rocks in 2008. Martin Kemp later said of the meeting, "I left the studio thinking Leonardo must be heavily involved," and that "No one in the assembly was openly expressing doubt that Leonardo was responsible for the painting." In a 2011 consensus decision facilitated by Penny, the attribution to Leonardo da Vinci was agreed upon unequivocally. By July 2011, separate press release documents were issued by the owners' publicity representative and the National Gallery, officially announcing the "new discovery".
Once it was cleaned and restored, the painting was compared with, and found superior to, twenty other versions of Salvator Mundi. It was exhibited by London's National Gallery during the Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan from November 2011 to February 2012. Several features in the painting have led to the positive attribution: a number of pentimenti are evident, most notably the position of the right thumb. The sfumato effect of the face—evidently achieved in part by manipulating the paint using the heel of the hand—is typical of many Leonardo works. The way the ringlets of hair and the knotwork across the stole have been handled is also seen as indicative of Leonardo's style. Furthermore, the pigments and the walnut panel upon which the work was executed are consistent with other Leonardo paintings. Additionally, the hands in the painting are very detailed, something that Leonardo is known for: he would dissect the limbs of the deceased in order to study them and render body parts in an extremely lifelike manner.
One of the world's leading Leonardo experts, Martin Kemp, who helped authenticate the work, said that he knew immediately upon first viewing the restored painting that it was the work of Leonardo: "It had that kind of presence that Leonardos have ... that uncanny strangeness that the later Leonardo paintings manifest." Of the better-preserved parts, such as the hair, Kemp notes: "It's got that kind of uncanny vortex, as if the hair is a living, moving substance, or like water, which is what Leonardo said hair was like." Kemp also states:
However skilled Leonardo's followers and imitators might have been, none of them reached out into such realms of "philosophical and subtle speculation". We cannot reasonably doubt that here, we are in the presence of the painter from Vinci.
In one respect, it is rendered with beautiful scientific precision, but Leonardo failed to paint the distortion that would occur when looking through a solid clear orb at objects that are not touching the orb. Solid glass or crystal, whether shaped like an orb or a lens, produces magnified, inverted, and reversed images. Instead, Leonardo painted the orb as if it were a hollow glass bubble that does not refract or distort the light passing through it.
Isaacson believes that this was "a conscious decision on Leonardo's part", and speculates that either Leonardo felt a more accurate portrayal would be distracting, or that "he was subtly trying to impart a miraculous quality to Christ and his orb." Kemp, on the other hand, says that the doubled outline of the heel of the hand holding the sphere—which the restorer described as a pentimento—is an accurate rendering of the refraction produced by a calcite (or rock crystal) sphere. Kemp notes that the double refraction is typical of the type produced by a transparent calcite sphere.[j] Kemp further notes that the orb "sparkles with a series of internal inclusions (or pockets of air)"—evidence supporting its solid nature.. More recently, the globe has been also interpreted as a magnifying instrument consisting of a vitreous globe filled with water.
Other versions or copies of Salvator Mundi often portray a brass, solid spherical orb, terrestrial globe, or globus cruciger; occasionally, they appear to be made of translucent glass, or show landscapes within them. The orb in Leonardo's painting, Kemp says, has "an amazing series of glistening little apertures—they're like bubbles, but they're not round—painted very delicately, with just a touch of impasto, a touch of dark, and these little sort of glistening things, particularly around the part where you get the back reflections." These are the characteristic features of rock crystal, which Leonardo was an avid expert on. He had been asked to evaluate vases that Isabella d'Este[k] had thought of purchasing, and greatly admired the properties of the mineral.
Iconographically, the crystal sphere relates to the heavens. In Ptolemaic cosmology, the stars were embedded in a fixed celestial crystalline sphere (composed of aether), with the spherical Earth at the center of the universe. "So what you've got in the Salvator Mundi", Kemp states, "is really 'a savior of the cosmos', and this is a very Leonardesque transformation."
Another aspect of Leonardo's painting Kemp studied was depth of field, or shallow focus. Christ's blessing hand appears to be in sharp focus, whereas his face—though altered or damaged to some extent—is in soft focus. Leonardo's Manuscript D of 1508–1509, explored theories of vision, optics of the eye, and theories relating to shadow, light and color. In Salvator Mundi, the artist deliberately placed an emphasis on parts of the picture over others. Elements in the foreground are seen with a sense of focus, while elements further removed are barely in focus, such as the subject's face. Manuscript D shows Leonardo was investigating this particular phenomenon around the turn of the century. Combined, the intellectual aspects, optical aspects, and the use of semi-precious minerals, are distinctive of Leonardo's oeuvre.
"There is extraordinary consensus it is by Leonardo," said the former co-chairman of old master paintings at Christie's, Nicholas Hall: "This is the most important old master painting to have been sold at auction in my lifetime." Christie's lists the ways scholars confirmed the attribution to Leonardo da Vinci:
The reasons for the unusually uniform scholarly consensus that the painting is an autograph work by Leonardo are several, including the previously mentioned relationship of the painting to the two autograph preparatory drawings in Windsor Castle; its correspondence to the composition of the 'Salvator Mundi' documented in Wenceslaus Hollar's etching of 1650; and its manifest superiority to the more than 20 known painted versions of the composition.
Furthermore, the extraordinary quality of the picture, especially evident in its best-preserved areas, and its close adherence in style to Leonardo's known paintings from circa 1500, solidifies this consensus.
According to Robert Simon, "Leonardo painted the Salvator Mundi with walnut oil rather than linseed oil, as all the other artists in that period did. ... In fact, he wrote about using walnut oil, as it was a new advanced technique." Simon also says that ultraviolet imaging reveals that the restoration mostly accounts for darker areas of the painting; the rest is original paint.
Author Ben Lewis, who disputes complete attribution to Leonardo, admits its possibility, owing to the originality of the face, which has "something modern about it." Kemp says:
I don't rule out the possibility of studio participation. ... But I cannot define any areas that I would say are studio work.
Some respected experts on Renaissance art question the full attribution of the painting to Leonardo. Jacques Franck, a Paris-based art historian and Leonardo specialist who has studied the Mona Lisa out of the frame multiple times, stated: "The composition doesn't come from Leonardo, he preferred twisted movement. It's a good studio work with a little Leonardo at best, and it's very damaged. It's been called 'the male Mona Lisa', but it doesn't look like it at all."
Michael Daley, the director of ArtWatch UK, doubts the Salvator Mundi's authenticity and theorizes that it may be the prototype of a subject painted by Leonardo: "This quest for an autograph prototype Leonardo painting might seem moot or vain: not only do the two drapery studies comprise the only accepted Leonardo material that might be associated with the group, but within the Leonardo literature there is no documentary record of the artist ever having been involved in such a painting project."
Carmen Bambach, Italian Renaissance art specialist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, questioned full attribution to Leonardo: "having studied and followed the picture during its conservation treatment, and seeing it in context in the National Gallery exhibition, much of the original painting surface may be by Boltraffio, but with passages done by Leonardo himself, namely Christ's proper right blessing hand, portions of the sleeve, his left hand and the crystal orb he holds." In 2019, Dr. Bambach criticised Christie's for its claim that she was one of the experts who had attributed the painting to Leonardo. In her forthcoming book Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered, she is even more specific, attributing most of the work to Boltraffio, "with only 'small retouchings' by the master himself".
Matthew Landrus, an art historian at the University of Oxford agreed with the concept of parts of the painting being executed by Leonardo ("between 5 and 20%"), but attributes the painting to Leonardo's studio assistant Bernardino Luini, noting Luini's ability in painting gold tracery.
This attribution is controversial primarily on two grounds. Firstly, the badly damaged painting had to undergo very extensive restoration, which makes its original quality extremely difficult to assess. Secondly, the Salvator Mundi in its present state exhibits a strongly developed sfumato technique that corresponds more closely to the manner of a talented Leonardo pupil active in the 1520s than to the style of the master himself. The way in which the painting was placed on the market also gave rise to concern.
Zöllner also explains that the quality of Salvator Mundi surpasses other known versions, however,
[it] also exhibits a number of weaknesses. The flesh tones of the blessing hand, for example, appear pallid and waxen as in a number of workshop paintings. Christ's ringlets also seem to me too schematic in their execution, the larger drapery folds too undifferentiated, especially on the right-hand side. ... It will probably only be possible to arrive at a more informed verdict on this question after the results of the painting's technical analyses have been published in full (Dalivalle/Kemp/Simon 2017).
In Paris, the Louvre's request for Salvator Mundi to be exhibited in the 2019–20 Leonardo de Vinci exhibition was reportedly met without response, leading some to speculate that its non-presence was due to doubts over its full attribution to the artist. Kemp disputes this reasoning, saying:
It's simply untrue ... because even if the Louvre was persuaded that there was studio participation in the picture, which would be feasible and not unknown after all, it wouldn't stop them from showing it. It's a major picture, an important thing. The story is sensationalized and inaccurate.
Rejection of attribution
British art historian Charles Hope dismissed the attribution to Leonardo entirely in a 2020 analysis of the painting's quality and provenance. He doubted that Leonardo would have painted a work where the eyes were not level and the drapery undistorted by a crystal orb. He added, "The picture itself is a ruin, with the face much restored to make it reminiscent of the Mona Lisa." Hope condemned the National Gallery's involvement in Simon's "astute" marketing campaign.
The rediscovered painting by Leonardo generated considerable interest within the media and general public amid its pre-auction viewings in Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and New York. Over 27,000 people saw the work in person before the auction: the highest number of pre-sale viewers for an individual work of art, according to Christie's. Never before had Christie’s used an outside agency to advertise an artwork. Around 4,500 stood in line to preview the work in New York the weekend prior to the sale.
Referred to as the "Last da Vinci", Salvator Mundi was the only known painting by Leonardo still in private hands. Fewer than twenty other known works by Leonardo are held in museums around the world, including the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. The only work by Leonardo in North America, Ginevra de' Benci, is held at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The museum purchased Ginevra in 1967 for $5 million in a private sale (equivalent to approximately $36.4 million in 2017), a world record at the time. Salvator Mundi is the first painting by the artist to appear in a public sale for 100 years.
Anonymous Flemish artist (c. 1750–1775), Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Youthful Christ with globe
- Titled Cristo giovanetto come Salvator Mundi
- The Apostle John in Leonardo's The Last Supper is similarly depicted as feminine relative to Jesus.
- He had also been in England from 1637 to 1646. He also may have simply copied a copy of Leonardo's painting.
- Some scholars claim that she might have had the painting when she moved from France and married Charles I in 1625, but this does not explain it being in Hamilton's possession from 1638 to 1641—although Hamilton may have simply possessed a different copy.
- Some scholars speculate that this could have been a copy, such as the one by Giampietrino.
- Fragmentation caused by removal of worm-eaten auxiliary panel
- Criteria for the comparisons included style, color, material, technique, historical evidence, spectral analysis at the Louvre laboratory, and the possibility that the Ganay painting could have been copied by Hollar in Nantes, France.
- The last Leonardo to be discovered was the Benois Madonna, found in 1909.
- The highest price previously paid for an artwork at auction was for Pablo Picasso's Les Femmes d'Alger, which sold for $179.4 million in May 2015 at Christie's New York. Willem de Kooning's Interchange was sold privately by the David Geffen Foundation to hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin in September 2015 for $300 million, formerly the highest known sale price for any artwork.
- None of the copyists had likely noticed or reproduced this crystalline orb with a double refraction.
- One of several candidates proposed as a plausible subject of Leonardo's Mona Lisa, who owned a portrait of her drawn by Leonardo
- Leonardus da Vinci pinxit, Wenceslaus Hollar fecit Aqua forti, secundum originale, A°. 1650 
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Dr Carmen Bambach believes the polymath likely only did small retouchings to the work
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Delayed unveiling of world’s most expensive painting adds to mystery shrouding its acquisition and authenticity
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