The Missing Da Vinci's “Salvator Mundi”

— April 23, 2019 by YIART

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Da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" was drawn about 1500 years ago.It is one of the less than 20 works of the Renaissance scholar Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519). The National Gallery in London has publicly displayed this work, and its whereabouts is now a mystery.

The "Salvator Mundi" was described as the newly discovered work by Da Vinci while the National Gallery hosted the Da Vinci solo exhibition "Leornado da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan" from 2011 to 2012. On November 15, 2017, Christie's auction of " Salvator Mundi " was sold to an anonymous buyer for $450 million, causing an uproar in the art world. This is the single piece of art that has been sold at the highest price in human history, and the only private painting of Da Vinci that has not yet been acquired into the museum. The anonymous collector is the Saudi Arabian prince Badr bin Abdullah al Saud, who is rumored to be the proxy of the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

One month after the auction, the Abu Dhabi Culture Department announced that they had somehow obtained the opportunity to publicly "Salvator Mundi" in September 2018 at The Louvre Abu Dhabi (authorized by the Louvre Museum in France to the Abu Dhabi Museum). However, the unveiling of this work was cancelled without any explanation before the exhibition, and the culture department refused to answer any questions. According to the New York Times, staff of the Louvre Abu Dhabi privately revealed that they did not know the whereabouts of this work.

Art critic Ben Lewis raised two questions about Da Vinci's "Savior" in his new book "The Last Leonardo" that was just released last week. First of all, he is skeptical about whether the "Salvator Mundi " is Da Vinci's autographs, and he believes that some part of the paintings were completed by Da Vinci's assistants. And he questioned whether the attribution process for the "Salvator Mundi " by the Da Vinci’s Solo Exhibition held by the National Gallery from 2011 to 2012 is convincing. In his report, five scholars specializing in Da Vinci's paintings revealed that they agreed with Da Vinci's added brushes on some part of the "Salvator Mundi ", but because the faces of the characters in the painting were badly damaged, it was impossible to tell whether it was Da Vinci hand-painted. But the curator of the exhibition, Luke Syson, who is also the head of the "pre-1600 Italian Paintings" at the National Gallery, owes the painting to the Da Vinci and describes it as "an autograph work".

On the other hand, Ben Lewis believes that the National Gallery has included this "Salvator Mundi" into one of the showcased artwork and this piece eventually produced the highest art auction record at Christie's. Ben Lewis believes that although "Salvator Mundi" has not been sold before the solo exhibition at the National Gallery, but the National Gallery must be aware that the work is likely to enter the market in the next few years. In response to such doubts, the National Gallery's spokeswoman said that this is good for public to see Da Vinci's latest certified works and academic discussions as a whole. She also said that the "Salvator Mundi" and other Da Vinci works together to show Da Vinci's works for direct universal comparison is an important opportunity to test the attribution of Da Vinci's work.

The British press The Guardian traced the origins of "Salvator Mundi" on April 17th in a book review of Ben Lewis's new book, “The Last Leonardo”. The report mentions that "Salvator Mundi" was listed as "a peece [picture] of Christ done by Leonard" in the inventory list of Charles I in 1650. This information also appeared in the catalogue of the National Gallery and Christie's. But the other works in the same batch as this work are attributed to Da Vinci pupils and imitators, therefore the provenance of this work is complicated.

"Salvator Mundi " was bought in 1900 by Richmond's wealthy textile manufacturer Francis Cook. It was not until 1958 that it was auctioned at the Sotheby's auction for £45 to the British businessman Warren Kutz who live in New Orlean, Warren Kutz was the only bidder. The two middle-class New York agents Robert Simon and Alex Parish bought the piece for $1,175 from a small auction house in New Orleans in a speculative vision in 2005. At the time, this work was in poor condition and was over-painted. They appointed Dianne Modestini, a well-known master of ancient paintings restoration, to clean and repair the work. "Salvator Mundi" then was certified by the famous Da Vinci works appraisal experts Martin Kemp and David A Brown, and recognized and launched by the National Gallery. The encounter of "Salvator Mundi"can be called the painting version of the sparrow to become a phoenix..

The restored "Savior" has been privately traded before the Christie's auction in 2017. It was sold to a Swiss middleman by Robert Simon and Alex Parish for $80 million in 2013, which was quickly resold to a Russian oligarch, Dmitry Rybolovlev, for $127.5 million. Then Dmitry Rybolovlev decided to commission the "Salvator Mundi" to Christie's auction, and then there was the story of the highest single item transaction price ever.

Since the Christie's auction was presented to everyone in 2017, the "Salvator Mundi" is still “missing”, and no official institution has indicated that it owns the work. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo Da Vinci. The French Louvre hopes to show this painting in the Louvre in France this year.

1)A Leonardo Made a $450 Million Splash. Now There’s No Sign of It.
2)London's National Gallery defends inclusion of Salvator Mundi in Leonardo show after criticism in new book
3)The Last Leonardo by Ben Lewis review – secrets of the world’s most expensive painting

1)Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Salvator Mundi, painted circa 1500. 25⅞ x 18 in (65.7 x 45.7 cm) © Christie’s