WASHINGTON, November 19, 2017 — “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the World,” said England’s King Charles I from the scaffold, where in 1649 his head was lopped off in one swift stroke from the executioner’s blade.
“Twas a cruel necessity,” said Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland – the king’s replacement. He made these remarks while gazing at the monarch’s corpse resting in its casket. And it was Cromwell who would eventually sell off the late king’s art collection, consisting of 1,500 paintings and 500 sculptures.
Salvator Mundi sets a record
Among the fabulous paintings and portraits of the king himself, painted by Sir Anthony van Dyck, was a Renaissance painting depicting Christ, his right hand raised in benediction, his left holding a crystal orb.
Known as the “Salvator Mundi” (Savior of the World), the painting sold at Christi’s auction house in New York City for $450.3 million. It was expected to fetch $100 million.
The sale shattered the previous record set by Pablo Picasso’s “Women of Algiers,” which fetched a tidy $179.4 million.
The unsigned oil on panel was once thought to be the master work of Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, an artist from Lombardy and student of the original Renaissance man, Leonardo de Vinci.
The painting eventually landed in the collection of a Normand duke, who sold it in 1763. It disappeared from history until resurfacing in 1900.
A new consensus on attribution
In the early 2000s, a careful reexamination of the painting convinced a number of art experts to attribute the Salvator Mundi to da Vinci by virtue of the Christ figure’s “sfumato” (soft and smoky) facial rendering, which is strikingly reminiscent of Leonardo’s famous Mona Lisa.
And changes (“pentimenti”: to repent or change one’s mind) regarding the repositioning of the subject’s thumb, revealed through a process known as infrared reflectography, are similar to those in other works by da Vinci.
In fact, the portrait bears a striking resemblance to the image found on the Shroud of Turin, which authors Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince suggest is the handiwork of Leonardo himself.
But it’s the crystal orb that continues to puzzle da Vinci experts and fuel the skepticism of the Salvator Mundi’s detractors.
The crystal orb does not reflect Christ’s hand nor render a distorted refraction of the blue gown behind it. This seems a glaring incongruity in light of de Vinci’s meticulous studies of optics and perspective handed down through his notebooks.
A snarky art critic casts shade on Salvator Mundi
One less-than-enthusiastic critic of the Salvator Mundi is art critic Jerry Saltz.
Writing at Volture.com, Saltz says:
“Experts estimate that there are only 15 to 20 existing da Vinci paintings. Not a single one of them pictures a person straight on like this one. There is also not a single painting picturing an individual Jesus either. All of his paintings, even single portraits, depict figures in far more complex poses.”
Everyone, it seems, has an opinion.
Back in 1958, Christi’s rival Sotheby’s sold the painting for a mere $60. But that was when the experts thought the painting was the work of the lowly Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio.
“The greatest deception men suffer,” wrote Leonardo da Vinci, “is from their own opinions.”