A $450 million Da Vinci painting bought by Saudi monarch has the art world divided

The Saudi monarch bought Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of Jesus Christ named Salvatore Mundi at auction in New York in 2017 for $ 450 million.

Ever since the Saudi monarch and ruler Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) bought the famous Leonardo Da Vinci painting of Jesus Christ called Salvatore Mundi (Savior of the World) at a Christie’s auction in New York in 2017 for $ 450 million, it became controversial about its authenticity. When the Louvre in Abu Dhabi canceled an announced exhibition of the painting in 2018, the murmuring became even louder and has not stopped.

A French television documentary, The Savior for Sale, slated to air this week, said MBS wanted the French Louvre to lie about the authenticity of the painting in order to save it the humiliation of spending $ 450 million on a painting by Leonardo’s students done and only punished by the master himself. According to Forbes, the documentary quoting French officials will reveal that MBS wanted him to be exhibited alongside Mona Lisa as a fully authentic Leonardo, which French officials refused to do.

The art world is divided over the origins of the painting, and more doubts are voiced after the auction than before. The main argument against it is that it is primarily the work of his assistant Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio with only “small retouches by Leonardo”.


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However, there are equally compelling reasons to believe that it was Leonardo himself who conceived the painting using the techniques used in the painting. Walter Isaacson, Leonardo’s biographer, categorically states that Salvatore Mundi is the work of the great master. Isaacson used historical traces and expert views to corroborate these facts. The following is his compelling reasoning, although it is true that many copies, including engravings, were made of the painting:

Historical evidence

* * An inventory of Christ in the manner of God the Father is in the inventory of the estate of Salai, Leonardo’s male partner and assistant. The same painting was also cataloged in the collection of Charles I, who was beheaded in 1649, and Charles II as well.

* The painting reappeared in 1900 when it was acquired by a British collector. But at the time it was heavily painted over and varnished, and experts also attributed it to Boltraffio.

* After 2005, it was bought by a consortium of art dealers and the painting was restored under the supervision of Manhattan art historian Robert Simon, who in turn showed the painting to top experts such as Nicolas Penny, then director of the London Art Gallery. and Carmen Bambach from the Metropolitan Museum and others. Martin Kemp, Leonardo expert who authenticated another Leonardo, La Bella Principia, said, “It had the kind of presence that Leonardos has”.

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Technical reasons

* High resolution photos and x-rays showed that the thumb of Jesus’ right hand was placed differently in the first painting. Why would a copywriter do this?

* Like other Leonardos of the time, the painting is painted on walnut wood in many thin layers of “almost translucent paint”.

* Irregular folds of Christ’s blue cloak can be found on Leonardo’s preparatory drawings.

* The circular sphere that Christ holds in his hand was also a favorite of Leonardo due to his interest in optics. Only in this painting, the sphere does not show images inverted as it should be, and the master knew about it. Maybe it was on purpose.

* Fingers pointing to heaven can be seen in many of Leonardo’s paintings, including John the Baptist and some disciples in “The Last Supper”.

The French documentary will again arouse interest in Leonardo da Vinci and the painting. However, it is difficult to understand why MBS would ask for a certificate from the Louvre of its authenticity when many other experts have done so.

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