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Last remaining privately held Leonardo painting up for sale

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2017

Leonardo Salvator Mundi

Only fewer than 20 of Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings are known to have survived until the present day. In 2005, a painting of Leonardo’s called Salvator Mundi was rediscovered after its provenance had been forgotten hundreds of years ago, to the point that it sold for £45 at an auction in 1958. In November, Christie’s auction house is selling the painting.

The painting disappeared from 1763 until 1900 when — its authorship by Leonardo, origins and illustrious royal history entirely forgotten — it was acquired from Sir Charles Robinson, who purchased the picture as a work by Leonardo’s follower, Bernardino Luini, for the Cook Collection, Doughty House, Richmond. By this time, Christ’s face and hair had been extensively repainted. A photograph taken in 1912 records the work’s altered appearance.

In the dispersal of the Cook Collection, the work was ultimately consigned to auction in 1958 where it fetched £45, after which it disappeared once again for nearly 50 years, emerging only in 2005 — its history still forgotten — when it was purchased from an American estate.

That estate sale in 2005 sold the painting for only $10,000…it was believed to be a Leonardo copy. The painting is estimated to sell at a price of $100 million but seeing how the last two sales netted $75 million and $127.5 million, it would be easy to see that going higher.

Update: New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz says that Salvator Mundi is probably fake (or at least not by Leonardo).

I’m no art historian or any kind of expert in old masters. But I’ve looked at art for almost 50 years and one look at this painting tells me it’s no Leonardo. The painting is absolutely dead. Its surface is inert, varnished, lurid, scrubbed over, and repainted so many times that it looks simultaneously new and old. This explains why Christie’s pitches it with vague terms like “mysterious,” filled with “aura,” and something that “could go viral.” Go viral? As a poster, maybe. A two-dimensional ersatz dashboard Jesus.

Why else do I think this is a sham? Experts estimate that there are only 15 to 20 existing da Vinci paintings. Not a single one of them pictures a person straight on like this one. There is also not a single painting picturing an individual Jesus either. All of his paintings, even single portraits, depict figures in far more complex poses. Even the figure that comes remotely close to this painting, Saint John the Baptist, also from 1500, gives us a turning, young, randy-looking man with hair utterly different from and much more developed in terms of painting than the few curls Christie’s is raving about in their picture.

Update: Salvator Mundi sold for $450 million, “obliterating the previous world record for the most expensive work of art at auction”. On Twitter, Saltz called the buyer “a sucker” and posted an image of the painting with Trump’s face pasted on it. Buuuuuuuurn.