Leonardo da Vinci’sSalvator Mundi is one of the greatest and most unexpected artistic rediscoveries of the 21st century. Its illustrious 500-year history, and the story of its re-emergence, restoration and authentication, is as fascinating as any of the bestselling thrillers about Leonardo’s life and times
Leonardo paints Salvator Mundi possibly for King Louis XII of France and his consort, Anne of Brittany. It is most likely commissioned soon after the conquests of Milan and Genoa.
Expert opinion varies slightly on the dating. Most consulting scholars place the painting at the end of Leonardo’s Milanese period in the later 1490s, contemporary with The Last Supper. Others believe it to be slightly later, painted in Florence (to where the artist moved in 1500), contemporary with the Mona Lisa. Like several of Leonardo’s later paintings, the Salvator Mundi is probably executed over a period of years.
French princess Henrietta Maria marries King Charles I of England (1600-1649), the greatest picture collector of his age. It has been speculated that she brings the painting to England, whereupon it hangs in the private chambers at her palace in Greenwich until, with Civil War looming, she flees England in 1644.
The celebrated printmaker Wenceslaus Hollar — a Royalist who also escaped England in the 1640s —publishes a print based on an earlier drawing he had made of the painting, which itself is recorded in the inventory of the royal collection (‘A peece of Christ done by Leonardo at 30:00:00’). The inventory is compiled in fulfilment of an act of Parliament dated 23 March 1649, which requires the sale of the king and queen’s property to meet the debts of their creditors and for the ‘publick uses of this Commonwealth’.
Hollar signs and dates his etching, inscribing it ‘Leonardus da Vinci pinxit’, Latin for ‘Leonardo da Vinci painted it’. The print itself is published in Antwerp and proof copies are sent to the queen in exile.
An inventory records that the painting is sold at the ‘Commonwealth Sale’ on 23 October to John Stone, a mason (in modern terms an architect or builder) who was representative of a group of creditors who received it and other paintings in repayment of debts.
Charles II is restored to the throne and his late father’s possessions are recalled by an act of Parliament. Stone returns the painting to the Crown.
An inventory of the collection of King Charles II at Whitehall lists it among the select paintings in the king’s closet, as item 311: ‘Leonard de Vince O.r. Savio.r w.th. a gloabe in one hand and holding up y.e other’.
1685 to late 18thcentury
The picture very probably remains at Whitehall during the reign of Charles II’s successor, James II (1685-88), passing to his mistress, Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester (1657-1717), and then by descent until the late 18th century.
Having vanished for around 200 years, the painting surfaces when it is acquired from Sir Charles Robinson as a work by Leonardo’s follower, Bernardino Luini, for the Cook Collection, Doughty House, Richmond. By this time, the walnut panel on which it is painted has been marouflaged and cradled and Christ’s face and hair have been extensively overpainted.
The architect Leon Benois exhibits theMadonna and Child with Flowers by Leonardo, a painting previously thought lost, in St Petersburg. Now in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, The Benois Madonna, as it is now known, remains the last Leonardo painting to have emerged for almost 100 years.
In his catalogue of the Italian paintings in the Cook Collection, Tancred Borenius describes the present painting as a ‘free copy after Boltraffio’ (another pupil of Leonardo’s). Sir Herbert Cook, however, notes that he sees higher quality in it.
In the dispersal of the Cook Collection Salvador Mundi— concealed by overpainting — is ultimately consigned to a sale at auction where it fetches £45. It then disappears once again for nearly 50 years.
The painting is discovered — masquerading as a copy — in a regional auction in the United States. After acquiring it from an American estate, its new owners move forward with care and deliberation in cleaning and restoring the painting, researching and thoroughly documenting it, and cautiously vetting its authenticity with the world’s leading authorities on the works and career of the Milanese master.
A comprehensive restoration of the Salvator Mundi is undertaken by Dianne Dwyer Modestini, Senior Research Fellow and Conservator of the Kress Program in Paintings Conservation at the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Modestini explains that the original walnut panel on which Leonardo, who was known for his use of experimental material,executed Salvator Mundicontained a knot which had split early in its history. However, she concludes that important parts of the painting are remarkably well-preserved, and close to their original state. These include both of Christ’s hands, the exquisitely rendered curls of his hair, the orb, and much of his drapery. The magnificently executed blessing hand, Modestini notes, is intact. With regards to the face, Modestini comments, ‘Fortunately, apart from the discrete losses, the flesh tones of the face retain their entire layer structure, including the final scumbles and glazes. These passages have not suffered from abrasion; if they had I wouldn’t have been able to reconstruct the losses.’
During the conservation process, pentimenti — preliminary compositional ideas, subsequently changed by the artist in the finished painting, but not reflected in the etching or painted copies — are observed through infrared imaging, and duly photographed. The most prominent is a first position for the thumb in the blessing hand, more upright than in the finished picture. IRR imagery also reveals distinct handprints, especially evident on the proper left side of Christ’s forehead, where the artist smoothed and blotted the paint with his palm. This kneading of the paint in order to create soft and amorphous effects of shadow and light is typical of the artist’s technique in the latter part of Leonardo’s career.
Other discoveries afforded by infrared analysis include the possibility that the head was executed with the aid of a cartoon; spolveri — pouncing — can be seen running along the line of the upper lip.
Two drawings comprising three sketches survive in which Leonardo studied the basic folds and disposition of Christ’s tunic and its sleeves. The two sheets are in the royal collections at Windsor Castle in England.
Technical examinations and analyses demonstrate the consistency of the pigments, media, and technique discovered in the Salvator Mundi with those known to have been used by Leonardo, especially in comparison to the Mona Lisa and St. John. As the possibility of the great master’s authorship becomes clear, the painting is shown to a group of international Leonardo scholars and experts, including Mina Gregori (University of Florence) and Sir Nicholas Penny (then, Chief Curator of Sculpture, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; subsequently Director of The National Gallery, London), so that an informed consensus about its attribution might be obtained.
The painting is studied at The Metropolitan Museum of Art by museum curators Keith Christiansen, Andrea Bayer, Carmen Bambach, and Everett Fahy, and by Michael Gallagher, Head of the Department of Paintings Conservation.
In late May, the painting is taken to The National Gallery, London, where it is studied in direct comparison with The Virgin of the Rocks, Leonardo’s painting of approximately the same date. David Allan Brown (Curator of Italian Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), Maria Teresa Fiorio (Raccolta Vinciana, Milan), Luke Syson, the Curator of Italian Paintings at The National Gallery, Martin Kemp (University of Oxford), Pietro C. Marani (Professor of Art History at the Politecnico di Milano), and Carmen Bambach of the Metropolitan Museum of Art are among those invited to study the two paintings together. Later, the authenticity of the piece as an autograph work by Leonardo was confirmed by Vincent Delieuvin at the Louvre, Paris.
The painting is again examined in New York by several of the above, as well as by David Ekserdjian (University of Leicester) and a broad consensus is reached that the Salvator Mundi was painted by Leonardo da Vinci, and that it is the single original painting from which the many copies and student versions depend.
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.
Salvator Mundi (‘Saviour of the World’) is unveiled in the exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at The National Gallery in London. One of 16 paintings in existence generally accepted as from the artist’s own hand, its inclusion in the exhibition comes after more than six years of research and inquiry to document its authenticity.
In the catalogue to the exhibition, curator Luke Syson presents the most insightful and broad-ranging examination of the painting yet.
Celebrated author, Walter Isaacson, includes a chapter on Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi in Leonardo da Vinci,his biography of the artist.
Margaret Dalivalle, Martin Kemp, and Robert Simon’s forthcoming book Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi and the Collecting of Leonardo in the Stuart Courts to be published by Oxford University Press.
Has Salvator Mundi been authenticated? ›
The Louvre inspected the “Salvator Mundi” and certified it as the work of Leonardo da Vinci.What is so special about Salvator Mundi painting? ›
The attribution continues to be a subject of debate among scholars and critics. Those who question the painting's attribution to Leonardo not only consider the depiction of Jesus as having feeble features, but they also describe the head-on composition as stiff and unlike Leonardo's characteristic twisting poses.How much is Salvator Mundi worth now? ›
Worth $450.3 million, Salvator Mundi is not only famous for its jaw-dropping price but also for the controversy that surrounds it. The battle between art historians over whether Da Vinci painted this piece is still underway. But what is the painting about and where is it? And did Da Vinci not paint it?How do you authenticate an original painting? ›
- A signed certificate or statement of authenticity from a respected authority or expert on the artist.
- An original gallery sales receipt or receipt directly from the artist.
- An appraisal from a recognized authority or expert on the artist.
- Names of previous owners of the art.
Stereomicroscopy and paint sampling
The paint surface was examined in detail using stereomicroscopy (up to 50× magnification), informed by information derived from infrared reflectography .
Most art world observers thought the Salvator Mundi would be the centrepiece of a new museum or art centre in the region, but the painting has not been glimpsed in public since.How much is the Salvator Mundi worth 2022? ›
There were six lots this year that fetched prices in excess of $100 million, exceeding even the heights achieved by the 2017 selling bonanza that brought us the $450 million Salvator Mundi (ca. 1499–1510) by Leonardo da Vinci and a $110 million painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, among others.Who owns the most valuable painting in the world? ›
Salvator Mundi: Saudi-owned $450m painting is not a Da Vinci, museum says. The world's most expensive painting, owned by Saudi Arabia, is not the work of Leonardo Da Vinci, according to a research project at Madrid's renowned Prado museum.Where is Salvator Mundi now 2022? ›
“[Salvator Mundi] is in Saudi Arabia and the country is constructing an art gallery, which is to be finished in 2024, I think,” art historian and noted Leonardo scholar Martin Kemp said at last week's Cheltenham Literary Festival in the U.K., as reported by the Art Newspaper.How much would Mona Lisa sell for? ›
The Mona Lisa is priceless. Any speculative price (some say over a billion dollars!) would probably be so high that not one person would be able or willing to purchase and maintain the painting. Moreover, the Louvre Museum would probably never sell it.
Who Owns da Vinci Code? ›
Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates is known to be an avid reader, and his home library is filled with rare books selected by a professional book dealer. In 1994, he purchased Leonardo da Vinci's "Codex Leicester," a manuscript that dates back to the 16th century.How much does it cost to authenticate a painting? ›
Authentication doesn't come cheap, either—independent experts (generally academics, although sometimes family members) usually charge for their services. Force said the minimum fee hovers around $500 and can go much higher depending on the artist and the potential value of the work.How can you tell if a painting is an original or a print? ›
Distinguishing a Print from a Painting
A clear difference between a print and a painting is the texture of the surface. Paintings typically have raised brushstrokes. The dots of ink on the print are flat. You can also find signs of the artist's work on original paintings.
Consider finding an appraiser to determine the value of your artwork. Appraisers are trained specialists who work for a fee. They evaluate your piece and give you a written statement of its value.How do I know if my print is valuable? ›
The rarer the print the higher the price. If a print is a part of a smaller edition, it will be more valuable, due to its exclusivity. If however, the print is a part of a larger edition than it will be less valuable. Open editions, on the other hand, are cheaper to buy, but they are also less likely to rise in value.How do you know if a painting is original or lithograph? ›
A common way to tell if a print is a hand lithograph or an offset lithograph is to look at the print under magnification. Marks from a hand lithograph will show a random dot pattern created by the tooth of the surface drawn on. Inks may lay directly on top of others and it will have a very rich look.What are the 3 ways that artworks are verified to be authentic? ›
A work of art is authentic when executed in the style, with the materials, and by the production process that are essential attributes of the genre.What are two things about da Vinci painting technique? ›
Da Vinci also observed differences between the subject and objects in the background, and used aerial perspective to create the illusion of depth: the farther something is in the distance, the smaller the scale, the more muted the colors and the less detailed the outlines.What makes Salvator Mundi so expensive? ›
This could be attributed to specific reasons, mainly it depicting Christ in the Renaissance theme and also it probably being the last work by Leonardo. Also, there are only less than twenty paintings of da Vinci known, and this particular being the only one that remained in someone's possession.Is the Salvator Mundi a picture of Jesus? ›
The unprecedented sum for a heavily restored painting with questionable attribution made the Salvator Mundi, arguably, the most controversial painting of the 21st century. The painting depicts Christ as the Savior of the World. He is shown in Renaissance dress, with two fingers extended as he gives a benediction.
How many da Vinci paintings are left? ›
Leonardo da Vinci's total output in painting is really rather small; there are less than 20 surviving paintings that can be definitely attributed to him, and several of them are unfinished. Two of his most important works—the Battle of Anghiari and the Leda, neither of them completed—have survived only in copies.What is the 2nd most expensive painting ever sold? ›
The second most expensive painting on the list is Interchange by Dutch-American painter Willem de Kooning. Created in 1955, it was an important early entry in the Abstract Expressionism movement. Hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin purchased it from the David Geffen Foundation for $300 million in September 2015.What's the most expensive piece of artwork in the world? ›
Guinness World Records lists Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa as having the highest ever insurance value for a painting. On permanent display at the Louvre in Paris, the Mona Lisa was assessed at US$100 million on December 14, 1962. Taking inflation into account, the 1962 value would be around US$900 million in 2021.Who is the highest paid painter 2022? ›
The richest painters in 2022 are led by John Currin
Three of his most famous works are Hot Pants, Honeymoon Nude, and Nude on a Table. Painting is quite possibly the most beautiful expression on the planet.
Though the whereabouts of the purported Leonardo da Vinci painting have been shrouded in mystery in the years since, it is understood to have been purchased on behalf of Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.Where is the real Salvator Mundi? ›
Somewhere in Saudi Arabia, hidden away by order of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, is the world's most expensive painting, Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi.Is the Mona Lisa painting authentic? ›
Created by one of the greatest Old Masters in the history of art, the Mona Lisa is a wonderful example of High Renaissance aesthetics of the early cinquecento, and has become an unmistakable icon of Western culture: a fact recognized by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), the father of modern art, in his parody entitled ...Is the Salvator Mundi in the Louvre? ›
The Missing Salvator Mundi Isn't in the Louvre's Leonardo da Vinci Blockbuster. But a Second Version You've Probably Never Heard of Is. Curators remain hopeful the missing painting will turn up. Installation view of the Ganay version of the Salvator Mundi, attributed to the studio of Leonardo.Who really painted Salvator Mundi? ›
Salvator MundiHow was Salvator Mundi found? ›
"Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi," which was discovered by American art dealer Alexander Parish at an estate sale in the mid-2000s, was sold to an unidentified collector for between $75 milllion and $80 million in May 2013.
Who is da Vinci's Jesus? ›
An Italian scholar claims to have discovered a new drawing of Jesus Christ by Leonardo da Vinci that confirms doubts that the Renaissance master painted Salvator Mundi, the world's most expensive work of art.What does Salvator Mundi mean in English? ›
Salvator Mundi, Latin for Saviour of the World, is a subject in iconography depicting Christ with his right hand raised in blessing and his left hand holding an orb (frequently surmounted by a cross), known as a globus cruciger.