Salvator Mundi Leonardo da Vinci

In this file photo, people take pictures of an oil painting by Atelier Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ (Version Ganay), during the opening of the exhibition ‘Leonardo da Vinci’, on 22 October 2019 at the Louvre museum in Paris. Image: Francois Guillot / AFP

‘Salvator Mundi’: World’s priciest painting may be a Leonardo after all

Several British experts authenticated the pricey painting as a long-lost Da Vinci.

Salvator Mundi Leonardo da Vinci

In this file photo, people take pictures of an oil painting by Atelier Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ (Version Ganay), during the opening of the exhibition ‘Leonardo da Vinci’, on 22 October 2019 at the Louvre museum in Paris. Image: Francois Guillot / AFP

The world’s most expensive painting, the ‘Salvator Mundi’, may be the work of Leonardo da Vinci after all, with several media reports contradicting doubts raised in a French documentary. 

The painting of Christ has not been seen in public since it was bought for $450 million (about R6.6 billion) by the Saudi royal family at a 2017 Christie’s auction.

New documentary on ‘Salvator Mundi’

The Savior for Sale, a documentary by filmmaker Antoine Vitkine due to run on French TV this week, claims the Saudis withheld the painting from a 2019 exhibition at The Louvre after its experts concluded it was produced by Da Vinci’s workshop and that the master only “contributed” to it. 

But after widespread reporting of Vitkine’s claims, other media have denied his version of events. 

“The Louvre and the C2RMF (its analysis unit) reached the opposite conclusion to the documentary: for them, the painting is indeed the work of Leonardo and only him. This information was communicated to the Saudis in September 2019,” said Didier Rykner, editor of magazine La Tribune de l’Art. 

The New York Times also reported that version and said the results of the analysis were kept secret because of a dispute over how the painting would be displayed in the Louvre exhibition, with the Saudis reportedly insisting that it be hung next to the Mona Lisa

‘Badly damaged’

As The Art Newspaper had earlier reported, an initial edition of the exhibition catalogue, revealing the positive findings of the analysis, had already been printed by the museum and was even sold for one day in its bookshop. 

But the book was withdrawn, it said, when it became clear that the Saudis would not lend the painting.

“Certainly, the Salvator Mundi was badly damaged and a large part was redone by an American restorer, but it is authentic,” art expert Eric Turquin said, adding that he had never heard doubts from his contacts at the Louvre. 

The museum’s conservators were “strongly opposed” to placing it alongside the Mona Lisa, said Rykner, fearing it would cause too many security problems to have the two most famous paintings side-by-side. 

“They also thought that, while this portrait clearly had its place in the exhibition, there was no reason to make it the most important in the retrospective just for reasons linked to its auction price,” he added.

The Louvre has refused to comment on any of these issues. 

A source with knowledge of the discussions told AFP this version of events was closer to reality than that of Vitkine’s documentary. 

The painting was initially bought in 2005 for just $1,175 by a New York art dealer and restored in the United States. 

Several British experts authenticated the painting as a long-lost Da Vinci and it was presented as such at London’s National Gallery in 2011 before being sold to a Russian oligarch for $127.5 million two years later. 

By © Agence France-Presse