A Leonardo da Vinci Masterpiece Breaks Records?The rediscovery of the last known Leonardo da Vinci painting made a shocking appearance in Christie’s auction house in New York this past November.
The seller was Russian billionaire, Dmitry Rybolovlev. He sold the painting in which he previously purchased for only $127.5 million in 2013 after buying from Swiss dealer, Yves Bouvier. In hopes of restoring the value of Rybolovlev’s collection, he put the da Vinci up for auction. Tens of thousands of art lovers from all around the world made their way to New York in hopes of viewing the da Vinci masterpiece before it was sold. The painting is titled ‘Salvator Mundi’ which translates to “Savior of the World” depicts Jesus Christ holding a transparent crystal orb. Leonardo da Vinci is best known for producing famous works of art such as the ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘The Last Supper’, and ‘Vitruvian Man’, just to name a few. Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452 in Florence, Italy with the full name of Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci.
The time before da Vinci was a world famous artist he apprenticed under one of the most famous artist of his day, Andrea del Verrocchio. Leonardo did not believe in limiting his skills to just one area therefore he studied extensively in many different fields. He was exposed to chemistry, carpentry, and metallurgy while learning the basics of astristy like drawing, painting, and sculpting. Da Vinci spent most of his professional life designing pieces that were for special occasions. The engineering and painting skills he acquired not only enhanced his works of art, but also increased his popularity amongst the art world during the Renaissance. Despite Salvator Mundi being created hundreds of years ago, da Vinci’s influence remains prevalent across art created today.
Ironically, Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale highlighted Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi. This work of art broke auction house records being sold at $450 million, beating out Picasso’s ‘Les Femmes d’Alger’, which was purchased in 2015 for $179 million. Whether it is new or old, art has a way of conveying a strong and powerful message throughout different periods of time to all types of audiences.
Art lovers welcome new findings, secrets, and the uncovering of lost, hidden, and buried artwork. The Salvator Mundi painting largely impacted the current art world all around the globe. In many discussions of the authentication of century-old artwork, one controversial issue has been whether or not it is an original from the primary artist.
On the one hand, critics argue that if it has been damaged and repainted then the authenticity of the artwork cannot be established. They also emphasize that it is highly possible that the person believed to be the primary artist, is in fact not and it may be a replication of some sort. On the other hand, other critics contend that as long as the condition and restoration are handled properly then experts can authenticate the artwork without negative influence. These critics believe in analyzing paintings in its entirety at a microscopic level. Over the past few centuries, copyists have replicated some of the world’s most popular and widely known pieces of art. Therefore, I understand the need to spend hours on end verifying and inspecting every inch of a painting, especially if it is going to potentially be sold for millions of dollars to private buyers in an auction house such as Christie’s or Sotheby’s. It is crucial to figure out if it is real or fake, so using technology like infrared and ultraviolet imaging along with x-rays to analyze the evolution of the painting over the centuries is not only expected, but necessary.
The history behind the restoration, conservation, and authentication is interesting because it is rumored that da Vinci painted Salvator Mundi for King Louis XII of France around 1500. About a century and a half later in 1651, the painting was seized to aid in the repayment of the king and queen’s debt. Ten years after this, Charles II took the throne and ownership of the painting along with other possessions of his late father’s. This artwork had years of varnish, was overpainted in 1958, and had disappeared for nearly 50 years. Upon being rediscovered in 2005, it was carefully cleaned and restored back to its original state. The stages and hands that the painting went through to appear in recent news allows for further study of the work.
Leonardo da Vinci is considered to be an old master, one of the most recognized European painters before the 1800s. His painting became the most expensive old master piece of art ever sold in an auction. Amongst these old masters are familiar household names including Rembrandt, Raphael, and Michelangelo. These artists have their artwork in some of the most esteemed museums with exhibits solely dedicated to them. When analyzing Salvator Mundi myself, I took similar steps that an expert would take while studying and examining it, from the strokes of the brush to the unique characteristics of Jesus Christ as portrayed in the painting. The rarity and beauty that it exudes by combining science and art is astounding. The crystal orb that Christ is holding in one hand and the benediction he appears to be giving with his other signifies the role he contributes as savior of the world. There are many details that I admire within this painting, for instance one is the simple and gentle smile he crafted similar to the one on Mona Lisa and St.
John the Baptist. The smile is subtle and welcoming, it isn’t overpowering or aggressive to the point where it is taking away from the image as a whole. The emphasis on elements in the foreground such as; the transparent orb, details in the stitching on the cloth, and the fingers are seen with a sharper focus whilst his face is a bit softer. I believe that da Vinci wanted to convey the message the way he intended it to be, with the importance in Christ’s hands thus a hard focused foreground. While the painting is beautiful, there are some negatives to it. The crystal orb is highly scrutinized throughout the art community because it is not depicted as being a true glass orb, which if true, would refract and distort any light that should pass through it. This is odd due to the fact that Leonardo da Vinci was big on experimenting with perspective, with a larger emphasis on light and optics.
Using techniques combining perspective and optics, Leonardo managed to paint a two-dimensional image on a blank, flat canvas and create a three-dimensional image of Jesus Christ. Although the orb has many art experts questioning the piece, other aspects that Leonardo da Vinci included help convey the overall message. As for the reemergence of this painting at Christie’s auction house, I am amazed at what it was purchased for.
Art enthusiasts live for rediscoveries and the moments when old masters or classic works of art are available to be publicly sold. The purchase of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi goes to show you that art is timeless. Every year masterpieces such as this one appreciate in value which makes it more competitive when it is time for auctioning. Even though the painting should have been put in Christie’s annual old master auction, the board wanted as much international attention as possible thus placing it into the distinguished contemporary art sale.
Prior to November 15th, 2017, those who were interested in bidding on the painting in the evening sale were required to use a specifically-designated paddle from Christie’s. Leonardo da Vinci was not the only widely known artist within the sale. His work of art was joined with a piece from Andy Warhol and Louise Bourgeois with a combined realized price of about $74 million, besides that of da Vinci’s $450 million. The explanation behind the outstanding price is because of the extreme rarity of paintings by da Vinci. There are only about 15 true paintings in existence by Leonardo himself, all of which are in museums around the globe except for the Salvator Mundi which was just sold. In America, there is only one Leonardo da Vinci painting on display for public viewing and that is ‘Ginevra de’ Benci’, which is stored in Washington, D.
C. at the National Gallery of Art. Upon the announcement that Christie’s auction house was going to have another Leonardo da Vinci in America for public viewing for the first time before auction, hundreds of thousands of people tuned in via live stream and showed up to Christie’s exhibitions. Bidding for the painting went on for about 19 minutes before hearing “SOLD!”. After this auction, auction houses globally have some big shoes to fill and high expectations to satisfy. The private buyer now has a one of the kind, Leonardo da Vinci worth $450 million and it can only skyrocket from there. Since stumbling across this news, I have become even more fascinated with the discovery and value of classic paintings. Major news outlets like The New York Times, Forbes, and TIME all reported on this extravagant finding, bringing art back into the limelight.
I believe this is necessary to do because art is losing its public attraction, less people are creating outside of the box. It raises the question of, “will any painting ever be as big and important as da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi ?” More news similar to this story should be written and get the recognition and appreciation it deserves.