Are We Done with Salvator Mundi Yet?
This commentary by Marion Maneker is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
It’s Leonardo’s birthday. So the gift we seem to be giving him today is resolving some of the endless controversy over the Salvator Mundi and its whereabouts. Over the weekend, the Times in London published excerpts from a book about the painting by Ben Lewis whose previous claim to fame was declaring the art market a bubble.
Martin Bailey took to The Art Newspaper today to summarize Lewis’s claims which amount to a debate over whether the work was wholly or partially made by Leonardo. The National Gallery in London’s had shown the painting to five experts in 2008 to decide whether the painting should be considered a Leonardo. Two of the panel voted in favor, one against and two abstained, Bailey writes,
“they agreed that Leonardo had added his brush to parts of the picture, notably the orb and its foreshortened hand, the golden embroidery and, above all, the blessing hand. And the majority agreed that the face had been so badly damaged that they could no longer tell who had painted it.”
Lewis directly connects the painting’s $450m value to the National Gallery’s decision to show the painting as a Leonardo, despite the inconclusive vote, in 2011. But that ignores the painting’s private sale after the show. It also conveniently ignores the true selling point of Christie’s marketing plan for Salvator Mundi which was not the painting’s pristine condition or autograph authorship but the fact that the painting could draw visitors to a museum.
Christie’s did that with its tour global tour where the painting lined up visitors around the block at several different venues. That, more than any scholarship, is what drew the bidders to the sale.
This Monday morning, almost as if it had been planned as a response to Ben Lewis, New York Magazine published its own Salvator Mundi story outlining the history or the painting’s rediscovery, restoration and subsequent sales. This story is less concerned with the work’s authenticity (though it covers the issue and the debate around the extent of the restoration) and concludes with the answer to insincere question of the painting’s whereabouts which has been a favorite target of newspapers trying to generate controversy over the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s failure to put the work on display as previously promised:
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