Christie's Record-Breaking $450,000,000 Da Vinci
Sale Might Raise More Questions Than It Answers
Fine art is becoming a trading commodity - was the price pushed by 'Curated Investing'?
Did the auction elevate Salvator Mundi to the rarified strata of 'priceless' works of art? For those who considered this to be a 'curated investment' opportunity, were those bidders well-advised? Oscar WIlde defined a cynic as a person "who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing," In discussing its 'value,' some degree of cynicism may be appropriate.
Crowds at Christie’s catching a glimpse of “Salvator Mundi.” Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times
As the art world celebrates - or denigrates - Christie's November 15 sale of a painting recently attributed to Leonardo daVinci which has been progressively sold since 2005 for $10,000, $80,000,000, $127,500,000 and $450,000,000, art consultant Aldis Browne is repeatedly asked: "What is Leonardo's Salvator Mundi really worth?"
Browne responds that, although Christie's presented as authentication the opinions of four leading experts, others question it. Reportedly Professor Carlo Pedretti does not accept the attribution. Pedretti, a preeminent Leonardo scholar, is professor emeritus in History of Art at the Armand Hammer Center, where he was also Director, and Professor of Leonardo Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He has published extensively on Leonardo. On April 24, 2008, he was awarded honorary citizenship of the town of Vinci. Corriere della Sierra reported: " Carlo Pedretti - contesta l'autenticità." ('Pedretti contests the authentication') corriere.it/cultura/11_luglio_04/panza-pedretti-salvator-mundi-non-autentico_2c06eb7c-a650-11e0-89e0-8d6a92cad76e.shtml?refresh_ce-cp
Time Magazine originally reported that Christie's supported the authenticity with an opinion by expert Nica Reippi(*) who stated that owing to the cost of the material that she believes that only Leonardo could have owned lapis lazuli paint. She further speculates that no other artist in Leonardo's studio might have been permitted to use it. "The fact is, this painting is extraordinary at a microscopic level and the uniqueness that we see at that level, there's no question that this painting is of the time period," Rieppi said. "And then in my mind that anyone else at that time frame could've created this except for Leonardo."
Reippi notes: "One big clue came from the composition of the paint. Through microscopic sampling, the team discovered the use of lapis lazuli — an incredibly rare pigment considered more expensive than gold in Italy at the time — in "extraordinarily high quality" throughout the blue of Christ's robe in the painting. Imported from Afghanistan, the material was "so expensive and only available to someone of a master and stature as Leonardo " Time Magazine: 'Science Authenticated Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi' time.com/5028341/leonardo-da-vinci-salvator-mundi-authentication/
(*)Time later posted this: Correction: The original version of this story misspelled, in some instances, the last name of Art Analysis & Research's principal investigator. She is Nica Rieppi, not Reippi. Time also revised the original caption to: 'A Leonardo da Vinci Painting Just Sold for $450 Million. Here's How Experts Figured Out It Was Real.')
Regarding lapis, Browne points out that when Salvator Mundi was sold for 45 Pounds Sterling in 1958 it had been attributed to a member of Leonardo's circle, Bernardino Luini. Not only did Luini use lapis lazuli himself, he apparently allowed his studio assistants to have access to it. The Brooklyn Museum describes their Luini painting as: "Workshop of Bernardino Luini (Italian, Milanese School, circa 1480-1532). Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels', mid-16th century.... The beautiful blue of Madonna's cloak was made using the pigment ultramarine, derived from the precious blue mineral lapis lazuli."
Detail: Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.
Attributed to the Workshop of Bernardino Luini (a contemporary of daVinci, born circa 1480.)
Time Magazine added a report that: "Jacques Frank, an art historian and daVinci specialist who examined the piece, told the New York Times he did not accept the attribution. "The composition doesn't come from Leonardo. He preferred twisted movement. It's a good studio work with a little Leonardo at best, and it's very damaged." nytimes.com/2017/11/15/arts/design/salvator-mundi-da-vinci-painting.html?_r=0 Quoting art expert Jerry Salz in a Smithsonian Magazine article, Brigit Katz wrote: 'While the sale of "Salvator Mundi" has generated a considerable amount of excitement, there are doubts about its authenticity.' She reported that NY Magazine critic Selz questions the surface as "a dreamed-up version of a missing daVinci" which is "absolutely dead." Beyond calling the painting "dead" Saltz draws a comparison between Salvator Mundi and every other know daVinci portrait composition. "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." smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/da-vinci-painting-sells-record-breaking-450-million-180967246/ Clearer than the question of attribution is the issue of condition, it is undeniable that the painting has been extensively restored. Jason Farago of The New York Times reported: "Cleaned by the conservator Dianne Dwyer Modestini, the painting now appears in some limbo state between its original form and an exacting, though partially imagined, rehabilitation." nytimes.com/2017/11/15/arts/design/salvator-mundi-da-vinci-painting.html?_r=0
Writing in The Art Newspaper Anna Brady reported that Thomas Campbell, Director Emeritus
Philip Kennicott, writing in the Washington Post asks: "A Leonardo' sells for $450 million. But what did the buyer actually get? Though some serious scholars believe that the painting, which depicts Jesus holding a transparent crystal orb in his left hand, can be attributed to the Renaissance master, the restoration was so thoroughgoing that it might be safer to say: There is possibly some Leonardo in there.
A recent history of lawsuits that might have tainted the painting appear to have been settled. The consortium of dealers that owned the painting before its restoration negotiated a sale brokered by Sotheby's to Swiss dealer Yves Bouvier for $80,000,000. Upon learning that Bouvier had 'flipped' the painting to Russian collector Dmitry Rybolovlev for $127,500,000 they brought suit against Sotheby's. When he found that Bouvier had misrepresented the actual cost of a number of the paintings, perhaps skimming as much as a billion dollars from numerous transactions, Ryboloviev brought suit against the Swiss dealer. Bouvier, who is presently being sued by the Swiss government for tax evasion, is reportedly under arrest in Monaco. In 2016 New York Times reported on these controversies LitigateBest.com Before he was identified as the owner who consigned the da Vinci to Christie's, Dmitry Ryboloviev had gained notoriety in the US as the purchaser of 'the most expensive home ever sold' from Donald Trump in July 2008, as equity markets were sliding into the 'great recession.' (“You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach … for $40 million, and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million.”) miamiherald.com/news/business/article135187364.html
Will Leonardo da Vinci play a role in the discovery process in the Mueller investigation of Russian influence in the 2106 US elections? Possibly. The sale of Salvator Mundi has drawn attention to a financial trail, one leading from 1990 to today, which may connect Donald Trump to Ryboloviev through Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.This path can be followed via the link at the bottom of this page.
The painting was either purchased for or by the Louvre, Abu Dhabi. The Wall Street Journal reported on Dec 7, 2017 that the buyer was Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The next day: “Christie’s can confirm that the department of culture and tourism, Abu Dhabi, is acquiring Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci,” the auction house said in a statement.”The question: is it being acquired by gift or purchase?
Controversy continued in August of 2018 when CNN reported that Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," the world's most expensive painting, may have been not just the work of the Renaissance master, but mostly of his assistant. -- Oxford University Leonardo scholar, Matthew Landrus, claims that the $450 million work was largely painted by Bernardino Luini, another artist in the Italian's workshop. -- Landrus will outline his case in an update to his 2006 book, "Leonardo da Vinci," which is due to be published next month."
Has Salvator Mundi become 'priceless'? Has this purchase been finalized? Who is its real owner? Could this have been high profile money laundering, as some speculate? Is it a studio painting that was barely touched by the hand of Leonardo? Or, as the The independent asks, "is it by the grand master at all?
Despite its unprecedented price Browne contends that many questions may long remain unanswered. Meanwhile, he speculates "imagine what could have bought by judiciously spending $450,000,000 over the past few years - a spectacular old master gallery filled with indisputable masterpieces". Regarding prices, he continues, "A sale of this magnitude might result in dramatically impacting an entire market. The more immediate question is whether this will prove to be that tide which will impact all boats or merely a ripple that soon will ebb?" He's betting on barely a ripple.