Salvator Mundi: The Story Behind the Painting

We just can’t get enough of the Salvator Mundi so thought we’d hear what Ana Brdar has to say.

The record-breaking sale of Salvator Mundi, one of the rare paintings attributed to the Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci, quickly became the most sensational news that came out of the art world in recent years.

It was confirmed that the buyer of the painting was Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism, who purchased the picture in November at Christie’s in New York for a whopping $450 million. This event marked the new world record for the most expensive painting ever sold, surpassing the May 2015 sale of Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger, which was priced at $179.4 million.

Soon afterwards, Louvre Abu Dhabi confirmed that it would exhibit the painting next to Leonardo’s other famous work, La Belle Ferronnière, which was sent from the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi, which had its grand opening in November this year, is part of city’s ongoing efforts to expand its potential in the fields of arts and culture.

With the news about the historic sale shocking the global art scene, it is worth learning more about da Vinci’s mysterious, captivating autograph work.

Salvator Mundi – Savior of the World – is one of the fewer than twenty works of art attributed to the Renaissance’s Old Master. It depicts the central figure of Christianity, Jesus Christ, clad in Renaissance-style robe, as he holds a crystal sphere in his left hand and offers benediction with his right. The glass sphere is said to represent the world and the universe, also emphasizing Christ’s role as the true master and guardian of humanity and the cosmos.

It was likely commissioned around the year 1500 by King Louis XII of France, at a time when da Vinci resided in Florence. It is believed to have been in the possession of King Charles I of England during the 17th century, as evidenced by the inventory of the Royal Collection, which had been recorded a year after his death.

The painting remained largely unknown for centuries that followed, and its original author and extensive history were all but erased. It was finally unearthed in 1900, when it was acquired by the British art collector Francis Cook, who bought the painting believing it was authored by one of da Vinci’s followers, Bernardino Luini.

By this point, the painting had been heavily repaired and overpainted, altering Christ’s original appearance, as evidenced by the photo taken of the artwork in 1912:

In 1958, Salvator Mundi was sold at an auction for mere £45, as work of Leonardo’s pupil, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio.

After the sale, the painting once again faded into obscurity for nearly half a century. In 2005, it was purchased at an auction in New Orleans, when the first speculations about it being a work by Leonardo himself began to appear.

Shorty after, an arduous process of cleaning and restauration took place at New York University, led by the renowned conservator Dianne Dwyer Modestini.

The discovery of Salvator Mundi and its revelation before the world is undoubtedly one of the most important events of the century in the art world. Even though Leonardo’s body of work remains preciously small, Salvator Mundi provides an invaluable insight into the genius of one of the greatest painters of all times.

Finally, in 2011, Leonardo’s authorship was confirmed through a consensus among leading international scholars. That same year, the painting was exhibited at the National Gallery in London, and has since travelled to Hong Kong, San Francisco and New York.

The discovery of Salvator Mundi and its revelation before the world is undoubtedly one of the most important events of the century in the art world. Even though Leonardo’s body of work remains preciously small, Salvator Mundi provides an invaluable insight into the genius of one of the greatest painters of all times.

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