The great Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci studied many things, such as science, math, engineering, geology, astrology, literature, botany, anatomy, and so much more. But it is his art for which he has particularly become known in more recent years. His Mona Lisa has become one of the most recognized paintings in the history of art, and was insured as such for $100,000,000 in 1962, which translates to $852,000,000 in 2019 dollars. A magnificent work, it nonetheless attracted less attention than the Salvatore Mundi, another painting by the artist, when it went up at auction in 2017.
Supposedly the Salvatore Mundi was originally painted by da Vinci for Louis XII of France along with his consort Anne of Brittany, presumedly following his conquering of the Duchy of Milan and assumption of control over Genoa following the Second Italian War (1499–1504). From here it gets complicated. It was rumored to reside in Chelsea Manor in London from 1638 until 1641, only to be sent to the Netherlands following the execution of its previous owner following the English Civil War. Following its sale to a creditor in 1651 it was returned to Charles II after the restoration of the English crown in 1660. Passing through the hands of several royals, it would change hands a few more times through auctions until it was finally picked up in 2005 and attributed to da Vinci after restoration in 2011.
The Salvatore Mundi was sold for an astonishing $450.3 million on November 15, 2017 at a Christie’s auction to Prince Badr bin Abdullah. It set the record for the most expensive painting ever sold in a public auction.
The painting itself depicts Jesus in Renaissance style clothing, holding his right hand up in the sign of the cross while his left hand gently cradles a transparent crystal orb. The symbolism of the piece itself presents Jesus as the Salvatore Mundi, or Savior of the World, while the sphere itself represents the heavens. The painting itself is one of da Vinci’s most copied works, with as many as 12 known versions created by his pupils and other artists. Its original reemergence in 2005 was in the form of a overpainted wreck, though following speculation it could be a covered up original it was sent for examination and restoration. Following this restoration, and a realization that the overpainting covered an original work (which was judged so by infrared imaging revealing a pentimento) it was eventually judged to be an authentic work.
Fast forwarding, Prince Badr supposedly made the purchase of the Salvatore Mundi on behalf of the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi, that it might be put on display in the country. Since then, there have been rumors that he in fact made the purchase on behalf of his long-time ally Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Further, following the cancellation of its appearance at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, it has rumored to either be on Crown Prince Mohammed’s yacht until a cultural center in the city of Al-’Ula in northwestern Saudi Arabia or it might be in storage in Switzerland.
Where to See The Work
Since its cancelled appearance at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and the still pending completion of a planned cultural center in northwestern Saudi Arabia, there is no way to currently view the work (that is unless you are a personal friend of the current owner). Hopefully it will be displayed again to the public in the near future.
For More Information
- Additional Information about the Salvator Mundi
- Leonardo da Vinci website
- The Secret Lives of Leonardo da Vinci (A New Yorker Article)
- Leonardo da Vinci: Based on thousands of pages of Leonardo’s work, the author weaves a narrative in this biography that connects his artistic genius with his equally amazing scientific acuity.
- Leonardo: The Complete Paintings and Drawings: An anniversary edition of an earlier work showcasing the catalogue raisonné of Leonardo da Vinci, including both his surviving and his lost paintings. The images included in excruciating detail are so good they show individual brushstrokes.
- Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered (warning: expensive): An authoritative four volume study that was published in the 500th anniversary of the polymath’s death. This definitive account of Leonardo’s life and work includes some 1,500 illustrations over 2,200 pages. Through the authors exhaustive research, Leonardo truly comes to life as one of history’s greatest artists, scientists, and inventors.
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