Leonardo: is it the real deal?


The “Salvator Mundi”, recently rediscovered and attributed to Leonardo, goes to auction at Christie’s, with an estimated value of about $ 100M. Will it be sold? Will it come back to Italy? With all the spotlights on this painting, someone started playing devil’s advocate, questioning the authorship, pointing to some alleged mistakes in the representation of the orb that Christ holds with his left hand. However, several copies are known similarly representing the orb, moreover it seems that what is not taken into account are the scientific and technical results presented by Dianne Modestini – who directed the restoration –during the conference on the occasion of the great monograph exposition in London in 2012. During her talk, she illustrated how a major part of the painting was damaged and how in the orb area most superficial layers, those building the orb, were lost. Modestini writes in the volume “Leonardo da Vinci’s technical practice” (edited by M. Menu, Hemann editors), about some white touches, probably related to the reflections of an external light, now unfortunately out of context, but also about the typical inclusions of rock crystal, visible in the part covering the hand, that are manically painted and certainly are to be related to Leonardo. So the orb, still the center of discussion, is for her the witness of Leonardo’s hand.
With regard to the materials used, from the 8 samples extracted, a double gesso and glue stratigraphy was visualized for preparation layer, and as far as the pigments are concerned, various types of black, lapis lazuli, red lacquer and white lead and cinnabar for the flesh tones have been identified. And a nice bit of glass probably used as a siccative. All compatible materials and techniques. A curiosity: the background probably was not as black as it is now, but green. Imaging diagnostics then showed some small repentance, for example in the position of the thumb of the blessing hand. Is this sufficient enough to consider it original? Certainly such evidences are more grounded than those relating to alleged stylistic errors in the orb. ArtTest has worked on several Leonardo paintings, such as the “Musician” of the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milano (of which diagnostic results were presented at the same conference in London), the Scapigliata and other works attributed to Leonardo, like the Caprotti’s Christ. In fact, we would have expected a more elaborate preparatory drawing. Perhaps we are not alone, and perhaps that’s why experts at Christie’s write about “many big and small changes,” and the “dramatic shift” of the thumb position, with too much emphasis.
(For a comparison click here.)