Friday, November 3, 2017

Only One Original Salvator Mundi

Only One Leonardo
Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), Salvator Mundi, c. 1500, 
oil on walnut panel, 
 25 7/8 x 18 in. (65.7 x 45.7 cm) 
Private Collection
Photograph:  Courtesy of Christie's

The news of a Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519) painting going on sale is a major event.  Leonardo was in a class by himself.  He was the consummate polymath - artist, inventor, engineer, scientist, writer, musician and more.  Although known primarily as a painter, fewer than twenty extant paintings have been in part or entirely attributed to him. Only one can be seen in the United States: his portrait of Ginevra de' Benci in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.   

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519 ), Ginevra de' Benci, c. 1474/1478, 
oil on panel, original panel only:  15 x 14 9/16 in. (38.1 x 37 cm),  
with addition at bottom edge:  16 13/16 x 14 9/16 in. (42.7 x 37 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Photograph:  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC Web site

Another painting is going on public view from November 4 through 15 at Christie's New York.  The work is the artist's Salvator Mundi. It will be auctioned on November 15, 2017 at Christie's Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Far less well known than his Mona Lisa and Last Supper, the two most famous and reproduced paintings in the history of art, the work for sale depicts Christ as "Savior of the World" described in I. John 4:14: "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world."  "Salvator Mundi" is Latin for "Savior of the World."   Christ is represented rigid and frontal.  The pose is archaic dating back to sixth-century Byzantine representation of Christ as Pantocrator, "Ruler of All."  The same image was frequently depicted in the apse behind the altar in Romanesque churches throughout Europe.  

Leonardo's Christ holds a rock crystal orb in his left hand and raises his right hand in a gesture of blessing.  The orb has long been associated as symbolic of the world and kingship.  Rock crystal, during the Renaissance, was believed to have magical powers. The sphere associated with the divine.  

The composition shows the influence of the central panel of a polyptych by Giotto now in the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina.  Giotto was an early Renaissance artist renowned for his increased naturalism in portrayals of the human figure as well as his realistic representations of nature.  Leonardo took from Giotto's Christ the gesture of crossed fingers on the blessing hand and the curve of the drapery across the figure's chest. The work also displays Leonardo's familiarity with images of Christ's face produced miraculously such as the one on Saint Veronica's veil, still in St. Peter's Basilica at this time. 

Giotto di Bondone (1276 - 1337) and assistants, Central Panel of the "Peruzzi Altarpiece", 
c. 1310 – 1315,  tempera and gold leaf on poplar panel, 
41 5/8 x 98 1/2 in. (105.7 x 250.2 cm)
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina
Photo:  Wikiart Web site


Leonardo's Salvator Mundi has long been known from a 1650 etching by the etcher, engraver and draughtsman Wenceslaus Hollar along with some twenty paintings that are copies and replicas by the master's students and followers.  

Wenceslaus Hollar (1607 -1667), Salvator Mundi after Leonardo
Inscription:  Leonardo da Vinci pinxit,  Wenceslaus Hollar fecit,  Aqua forti  Secundum Originale, A. 1650 (Leonardo da Vinci painting, Wenceslaus Holler did etching according to the original in 1650), 1650, etching, 10.24 x 7.09 in. (26 x 18 cm)
Photo:  Christie's Website

Scholars conjecture that Salvator Mundi was commissioned by the French King Louis XII and his wife Anne of Brittany when the Duchy of Milan fell to the French in 1499.  They posit the work remained in the French royal collection until princess Henrietta Maria took it to England when she married King Charles I in 1625.  It was recorded in a 1651 inventory of Charles I's collection and documented in a 1666 list of paintings belonging to his son, King Charles II. Most likely it remained with James II, who ascended the throne in 1685 after the death of his brother, Charles II.  It is conjectured the painting passed to James' mistress and her descendants.  

In the eighteenth century, the work's whereabouts were lost with one exception.  There was a reference to it in a 1783 sale of artworks arranged by the illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham after the sale of Buckingham Palace to the king.  

The work resurfaced in 1900 when it was acquired by Sir Francis Cook, a successful linen and textile merchant.  Cook purchased it as a work by a Leonardo follower.  It was purchased for Cook by his art advisor. Where his advisor obtained it is not known.  By this time, flaws in the painting's supporting wood necessitated extensive overpainting.  The work was in bad shape. 

The painting disappeared again for over fifty years until 1958 when it was sold as a copy by one of Leonardo's pupils at a Sotheby's auction for £45, the equivalent of about $2,350 today.  The location of the painting was again lost for about fifty years when in 2005, still assigned as a copy by one of Leonardo's pupils, it was purchased by a group of art dealers from an American estate at a small regional auction house in New Orleans for approximately $10,000.   The dealers proceeded to have the painting restored and to prove Leonardo's authorship.  

In 2007 Dianne Dwyer Modestini, a world famous conservator, undertook the cleaning, restoration and conservation of Salvator Mundi.  Dr. Modestini completed her work in 2010 providing a detailed analysis of the painting's condition, materials and technique. Further inspection by leading Leonardo experts concluded in 2011 that the painting was the original Leonardo Salvator Mundi.  

The restored and authenticated Salvator Mundi was presented to the public in 2011 at London's National Gallery of Art in the exhibition Leonardo da Vinci:  Painter at the Court of Milan.  Two years later it was once again sold through a private sale arranged by Sotheby's to an art dealer for somewhere between $75 million and $80 million.  The dealer subsequently sold the work to a Russian oligarch for $127.5 million.  It is now estimated to fetch approximately $100 million at the Christie's sale. 

Dr. Modestini's restoration was a major undertaking.  The background, for example, had almost entirely been scraped down to the wood panel. The choice of the now ivory black color - a rich black with a bit of warm brown undertone - for the background was the restorer's. Overpainting affected large areas and even included a mustache on the Christ figure which may have appeared too feminine for some.  Even so, enough of the original remained to discern Leonardo's workmanship.  

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), Detail of Salvator Mundi, c. 1500, 
oil on walnut panel, 
 25 7/8 x 18 in. (66.7 x 45.7 cm) 
Private Collection
Photograph:  Courtesy of Christie's

The rendering of the figure's hands, hair and parts of the forehead, relatively well-preserved, made the Leonardo attribution compelling. Comprehensive examination revealed that the painting technique - thin layering of the oils - and the pentimenti, indications of Leonardo changing his mind, were typical of the artist.  A case in point is the thumb on Christ's blessing hand.  It was initially drawn in a more upright position then altered as Leonardo worked out his composition. The palm of Christ's left hand was also revised in a manner consistent with Leonardo's working methods.  

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), Detail of Salvator Mundi, c. 1500, 
oil on walnut panel, 
 25 7/8 x 18 in. (66.7 x 45.7 cm) 
Private Collection
Photograph:  Courtesy of Christie's


Also characteristic of Leonardo are the marks made by the heel of  his hand above Christ's left eye.  The palm's pressure visibly softened the paint's appearance, making the depicted flesh seem more true to life.  

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), Detail of Salvator Mundi, c. 1500, 
oil on walnut panel, 
 25 7/8 x 18 in. (66.7 x 45.7 cm) 
Private Collection
Photograph:  Courtesy of Christie's

Two Leonardo red chalk drapery studies for Salvator Mundi in the English Royal Collection further strengthened the attribution of the panel as the Leonardo autograph primary version.  

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), Drapery Study for the  Salvator Mundi, c. 1500, 
red chalk and traces of pen and ink heightened with white chalk
 on pale red-ochre prepared paper, 
 8.67 x 5.47 in. (22 x 13.9 cm) 
Royal Collection, United Kingdom
(RCIN 912524)
Photograph:  Royal Collection Trust Web site


Christie's is showing the Salvator Mundi without glass.  To view a work directly, absent of reflections produced by protective glaze, is a treat. Go see for yourself.

Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi
Post-War & Contemporary Art 
Evening Sale
November 15, 2017 at 7:00 pm
Admission to this sale is by ticket only.
20 Rockefeller Plaza, Manhattan
Public Viewing:  
November 4, 2017 - November 15, 2017
Monday - Saturday 10 am - 5 pm
Sundays 1 pm - 5 pm
November 15, 2017 10 am - 12 noon

Addendum:  Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi sold for $450,312,500 at Christie's Post War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale on November 15, 2017.  The price included Christie's Buyer's Premium - the additional amount a buyer pays to the auction house. The Leonardo netted Christie's over $50,000,000.  The sale was the highest price ever paid for a painting at auction.  The bidding lasted a bit less that 20 minutes.  The  purchaser, Saudi prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, made the final offer via phone to Christie's co-chair Alex Rotter who relayed the winning bid to the auctioneer.  Prince Bader is said to be acting for Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  Prince Bader is a distant relative and friend of Prince Mohammed.  12/8/17