Written by Aksel Ritenis



*CREDIT TO CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. [2017] Text by Christie’s Text sub-edited and posted by Axel Ritenis,Editor ,Connoisseur Magazine



As fascinating as any best-selling thriller, the rediscovery of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi, one of fewer than 20 surviving paintings accepted as from the artist’s own hand, has caused a worldwide media sensation. The next chapter will see this masterpiece being offered at Christie’s in New York(Leonardo da Vinci In 2011, the dramatic public unveiling of Salvator Mundi (‘Saviour of the World’) in the exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at The National Gallery in London caused a worldwide media sensation.

Painted by one of history’s greatest and most renowned artists, whose works are exceedingly rare — fewer than 20 paintings in existence are generally accepted as from the artist’s own hand — it was the first discovery of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci since 1909, when the Benois Madonna, now in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, came to light. Without question the greatest artistic rediscovery of the 21st century, this singular example of a painting by da Vinci in private hands will be offered as a special lot in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 November at Christie’s in New York.

Leonardo d Vinci- Salvator Mundi, on view in Hong Kong‘

Salvator Mundi is a painting of the most iconic figure in the world by the most important artist of all time,’ says Loic Gouzer, Chairman, Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s in New York. ‘The opportunity to bring this masterpiece to the market is an honour that comes around once in a lifetime. Despite being created approximately 500 years ago, the work of Leonardo is just as influential to the art that is being created today as it was in the 15th and 16th centuries. We felt that offering this painting within the context of our Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale is a testament to the enduring relevance of this picture.’. Loic Gouzer 」 Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi. Oil on walnut panel. Panel dimensions: 25 13/16 x 17 15/16 in (65.5 x 45.1 cm) top; 17¾ in (45.6 cm) bottom; Painted image dimensions: 15⅜ x 17½ in (64.5 7 cm). Estimate on request. This work will be offered as a special lot in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 November at Christie’s in New York

Its inclusion in the National Gallery’s landmark exhibition of 2011-12 — the most complete display of Leonardo’s rare surviving paintings ever held — came after more than six years of painstaking research and inquiry to document the painting’s authenticity. This process began shortly after the painting was discovered — heavily veiled with overpaints, long mistaken for a copy — in a small, regional auction in the United States.  The painting’s new owners moved forward with admirable care and deliberation in cleaning and restoring the painting, researching and thoroughly documenting it, and cautiously vetting its authenticity with the world’s leading authorities on the works and career of the Milanese master. Dianne Dwyer Modestini, the conservator who restored the work in 2007, recalls her excitement after removing the first layers of overpaint, when she began to recognise that the painting was by the master himself. ‘My hands were shaking,’ she says. ‘I went home and didn’t know if I was crazy.’



Group Photo in Hong Kong 

From Left to Right 由左至右

Loic Gouzer, Chairman, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s New York: 佳士得紐約戰後與當代藝術部門主席

Rebecca Wei, President – Christie’s Asia: 佳士得亞洲區總裁魏蔚

Francois de Poortere, Head of Old Master Paintings, Christie’s: 佳士得古典藝術部門主管


The newly discovered masterpiece, dating from around 1500, depicts a half-length figure of Christ as Saviour of the World, holding a crystal orb in his left hand as he raises his right in benediction. Leonardo’s painting of the Salvator Mundi was long believed to have existed but was generally presumed to have been destroyed. In 1650, the celebrated printmaker Wenceslaus Hollar copied the painting in an etching, which he signed and dated, and inscribed ‘Leonardus da Vinci pinxit ’, Latin for ‘Leonardo da Vinci painted it’. Two preparatory redchalk drawings by Leonardo for Christ’s robes are in the English Royal Collection at Windsor and have long been associated with the composition, which has also been known through more than 20 painted copies by students and followers of the artist. Dianne Dwyer Modestini Leonardus da Vinci pinxit Luke Syson, in the catalogue to the exhibition, Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, has speculated that Leonardo may have made the painting for the French royal family and that it was brought to England by Queen Henrietta Maria when she married Charles I in 1625.

What is known for certain is that it belonged to King Charles I (1600-1649), where it is recorded in the inventory of the royal collection drawn up a year after his execution.

The royal inventory records that the painting was sold at the ‘Commonwealth Sale’ on 23 October 1651. Nine years later, when Charles II was restored to the throne and his late father’s possessions were recalled by an act of Parliament, the painting was returned to the Crown. A 1666 inventory of the collection of Charles II at Whitehall lists it among the select paintings in the King’s closet.  What is known for certain is that it belonged to King Charles I (1600-1649), where it is recorded in the inventory of the royal collection drawn up a year after his execution . The painting disappeared from 1763 until 1900 when — its authorship by Leonardo, origins and illustrious royal history entirely forgotten — it was acquired from Sir Charles Robinson, who purchased the picture as a work by Leonardo’s follower, Bernardino Luini, for the Cook Collection, Doughty House, Richmond. By this time, Christ’s face and hair had been extensively repainted. A photograph taken in 1912 records the work’s altered appearance. In the dispersal of the Cook Collection, the work was ultimately consigned to auction in 1958 where it fetched £ 45, after which it disappeared once again for nearly 50 years, emerging only in 2005 — its history still forgotten — when it was purchased from an American.


Francois de Poortere,Head of Old Master Paintings, Christie’s

In 2007, an extensive restoration of Salvator Mundi was undertaken by Dianne Dwyer Modestini, Senior Research Fellow and Conservator of the Kress Program in Paintings Conservation at the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Dr. Modestini has extensively documented the painting’s state of preservation and her conservation process, concluding that the painting was indeed an autograph work by Leonardo da Vinci.

Both of Christ’s hands, the exquisitely rendered curls of his hair, the orb, and much of his drapery are in fact remarkably well preserved and close to their original state Both of Christ’s hands, the exquisitely rendered curls of his hair, the orb, and much of his drapery are in fact remarkably well preserved and close to their original state. In addition, the painting retains a remarkable presence and haunting sense of mystery that is characteristic of Leonardo’s finest paintings. Above the left eye (right as we look at it), are still visible the marks that Leonardo ‘made with the heel of his hand to soften.

The many changes, large and small, that Leonardo made in the process of the creation of Salvator Mundi emerged only in the cleaning process. The dramatic shift in the position of the thumb on Christ’s blessing hand, the repositioning of the palm that holds the orb, the significant movements to the bands that cross the stole, and the repositioning of the jewelled ornament attached to his garment beneath the neckband all speak to the primacy and originality of the painting and to its authenticity as Leonardo’s original. But they also speak to the probing nature of Leonardo’s genius, the relentless experimentation, curiosity and perfectionism that led him to abandon, unsatisfied, most of the paintings he started, and resulted in a tiny body of finished masterpieces that rank among the most enigmatic and haunting works in the history of art.

That the rediscovery of the Salvator Mundi is a once-ina-century addition to this small but monumentally influential corpus is, in and of itself, more than enough reason to celebrate its return; that the painting is also a profoundly moving, affecting and evocative masterpiece by this towering genius of the Renaissance is almost miraculous in itself.


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Aksel Ritenis

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