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Mystery surrounds $450M da Vinci painting

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Author Topic: Mystery surrounds $450M da Vinci painting  (Read 458 times)
Java Blue
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« on: November 17, 2017, 06:40:39 pm »

3. The provenance

There are fewer than 20 authenticated artworks by Leonardo, and this version of Salvator Mundi has not been among their number for long. It's commonly accepted that Leonardo painted a Salvator Mundi – 17th century artist Wenceslaus Hollar produced an etching based on his original – but the question inevitably arises as to whether this is it.

The original was once owned by Charles I, but disappeared completely from 1763. Salvator Mundi only surfaced in 1900, when it was bought by the collector Sir Charles Robinson. For a long time, it was attributed to Leonardo's follower Bernardino Luini. After it was sold in 1958, it vanished once more, only appearing again in 2005.

Although recent testing suggests it dates from Leonardo's lifetime, it is possible that the painting is a collaborative work, as is thought to be the case with the Bucchleuch Madonna, a version of the Madonna of the Yarnwinder which Leonardo may have produced with another member of his workshop.

Detail of The Bucchleuch Madonna, c1499-1501
Detail of The Bucchleuch Madonna, c1499-1501
4. The restoration

Even if this picture was by Leonardo, there is a very real argument that today's painting is no longer his.

The picture that reappeared in Louisiani in 2005 was almost unrecognisible after years of damage, and partly painted over. Its most restoration project took six years, and involved considerable work.

New York magazine writer Jerry Saltz quotes an anonymous critic as claiming they believed “90 per cent of it was painted in the last 50 years" – though this outlandish estimate is surely an overstatement.

It was restored by Dianne Dwyer Modestini, one of the leading practitioners in her field, who had to compete with not only decades of grime but with a previous, botched restoration. But every repair that requires a new addition brings the painting further from its past, from the patina of history that has become as much a part of the painting as Leonardo's brushstrokes.

As Modestini told CNN in 2011, “I wanted [to be sure] that none of my restorations had impinged on the original, that I had not done too much, because old pictures have to look old—if you take out every crack, every spot, every anomaly, they can easily look like a reproduction." Even choosing which spots and cracks to keep becomes an aesthetic decision; despite Modestini's modest comments, part of this Salvator Mundi's artistry is undoubtedly her own.

Is it a rediscovered masterpiece, a new Mona Lisa? Or is it, in the words of art adviser Todd Levin, “a thumping epic triumph of branding and desire over connoisseurship and reality"? To know for certain, you might as well consult a crystal ball.
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