There are many Salavator Mundis.
Latin for ‘Saviour of the World’, it is a subject in iconography depicting Christ with his right hand raised in blessing and his left hand holding an orb surmounted by a cross. Made popular by northern European painters from the 14th century onwards, it has inspired dozens of artists over centuries.
But the Salvator Mundi that recently fetched $450 million at a Christie’s auction, making it the most expensive painting ever sold in history, is unique. Not only does it bear all the exceptional hallmarks of a Leonardo da Vinci painting, it also has the most intriguing backstory that makes it all the more fascinating.
According to some, the painting could date back to around 1500. The work was painted on walnut, like other Leonardos of the period including the Mona Lisa, in many very thin layers of almost translucent paint – a technique that led most experts to agree that it was an authentic Leonardo. It was possibly commissioned for King Louis XII of France and his consort, Anne of Brittany, soon after the conquests of Milan and Genoa.
When French princess Henrietta Maria married King Charles I of England (1600-1649), the greatest picture collector of his age, it’s believed she brought the painting with her to England. In the mid-17th century, it was listed in an inventory of the collection of Charles I of England, and it is thought to have hung in the private chambers of his wife, Henrietta Maria of France. It was later in the collection of their son, Charles II.
The work remained part of the royal family’s possessions until 1763 – when it was auctioned by the illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham, Charles Herbert Sheffield.
It then went missing for nearly 150 years.
The painting resurfaces when it is acquired by Sir Charles Robinson for the Cook Collection in Richmond, alongside works by Velázquez et Rembrandt. But at the time, the work is attributed to a follower of Leonardo’s, Bernardino Luini. By this time, the walnut panel on which it is painted has been marouflaged and Christ’s face and hair have been extensively overpainted.
It next appears at a Sotheby’s auction in 1958, where it is sold for a mere £45. At this point, it is attributed to another of Leonardo’s pupils, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, though a growing number of experts believe it could be by the master himself.
The painting disappears again until it 2005, when it is purchased at a small regional auction house in the US by a group of art dealers who purchase it for another bargain price of $10,000. They put it in the hands of internationally renowned conservator Dwyer Modestini.
Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi is finally recognised as authentic. As a result, it is sold for close to $80 million in 2013 to a Swiss art dealer, who resells it to a Russian billionaire Dmitri Rybolovlev, the owner of Monaco football club, for $127 million. Ensues one of the most high-profile international legal battle of the century between the billionaire Russian art collector and his former art advisor Yves Bouvier, whom he accuses of overcharging him.
15 novembre 2017
The painting is sold at a Christie’s auction for a staggering $450 millions.