Salvator Mundi – Is it or isn’t it a Da Vinci masterpiece?

Salvator Mundi – a painting hailed as a masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci and sold at Christie’s for a record-breaking £335 million in November 2017 – is actually the work of a studio assistant, according to an Oxford University scholar.

Art historian, Matthew Landrus, said he is “100% certain” that ‘Salvator Mundi’ (ca. 1500) was painted by Da Vinci’s assistant, Bernardino Luini, and finished by the Renaissance master. While Da Vinci provided the design for the artwork, Landrus is convinced he only painted 20-30% of the piece, adding atmospheric effects to Christ’s face, hands, vestment and crystal ball.

Most recently thought to be one of fewer than 20 surviving works by Da Vinci, ‘Salvator Mundi’ has divided art historians over its attribution. Considered to be a work by a follower of Da Vinci when it sold for a mere £45 at auction at Sotheby’s in London in 1958, extensive study and restoration work lead international Da Vinci scholars to reattribute the painting to the Old Master in 2007.

The work went on to become the centrepiece of a heated legal battle between Russian billionaire, Dmitry, Rybolovlev and his art adviser, the Geneva Freeport Operator, Yves Bouvier.

Now, the authenticity of the work, which was acquired for the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism and is due to be unveiled at the Louvre Abu Dhabi in September, is under scrutiny once again. Landrus, who has published several works on Da Vinci, insists a comparison of Da Vinci and Luini’s works would suffice to prove his theory that it is a studio painting.

The Oxford scholar highlights the following similarities between ‘Salvator Mundi’ and paintings by Luini to support his attribution:

  • The depiction of gold bands and fabric on the robes in ‘Salvator Mundi’ and Luini’s depiction of gold tracery in other paintings;
  • The modelling of Christ’s face;
  • Christ’s hairstyle; and
  • Christ’s shoulders.

In view of these similarities, Landrus argues Luini was “the only reasonable candidate for much of the authorship” of the work. “By traditional standards, we can call it ‘a Leonardo studio’ painting”, Landrus stated.

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