Major museum casts new doubt on authenticity of $450 million ‘Salvator Mundi’

This article was originally published by Art newspaper, an editorial partner of CNN Style.
NS “Salvator Mundi,” sold for $450 million at Christie’s auction house as the fully authenticated Leonardo da Vinci, has been demoted by curators at the Prado national museum in Madrid, Spain. It was bought in november 2017 of the Saudi Culture Minister, Prince Badr bin Abdullah, appears to have arrived at Louvre Abu Dhabi.
The downgrade is included in the catalog of the Prado . exhibition “Leonardo and the Mona Lisa clone,” runs until January 23, 2022. Although individual experts have questioned the status of the so-called “Salvator Mundi” Gulf, Prado’s decision represents the most significant response from a top museum since selling Christie’s.

Prado’s verdict is recorded in the exhibition’s catalog, which contains one list of paintings “by Leonardo”, and another list for “works delivered, workshop or authorized and supervised by Leonardo.” The Gulf painting falls into the second category, known as the Cook version (the painting was purchased in 1900 by London-based Francis Cook). While the show focuses on Prado’s copy of “Mona Lisa,” it also deals with versions of other Leonardo works.

Prado curator Ana Gonzáles Mozo observes in her catalog essay that “some experts argue that there is a now-lost archetype (of Leonardo’s ‘Salvator Mundi’) while others others claim that the much-debated version of Cook is the original.” However, she suggests that there is “no drawn prototype” of Leonardo.

The Prado Museum in Spain downgraded the status of the so-called Bay Area "Salvator Mundi" in its exhibition catalog for "Leonado and her replica Mona Lisa."

The Prado Museum in Spain has downgraded the place of the so-called “Salvator Mundi” Gulf in the exhibition catalog to “Leonado and her replica Mona Lisa.” Credit: Alamy

Mozo proposes that another copy of “Salvator Mundi”, the so-called Ganay version (1505-15), is the closest copy to Leonardo’s lost original. Acquired by Hubert, Marquis de Ganay in 1939, it was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 and is now in an anonymous private collection. Mozo argues that the skilled workshop artist who painted Ganay’s “Salvator Mundi” was also responsible for the original copy of Prado’s “Mona Lisa” (1507-16). Although the catalog includes a full-page image of Ganay “Salvator Mundi”, the Cook version is not even illustrated.

The opening entry to the Prado catalog is by Vincent Delieuvin, curator of the Louvre Museum’s landmark 2019 Leonardo retrospective. He discusses the various views on “Salvator Mundi” Bay without offering much of his own, though he does mention “the details are of a surprisingly poor quality.” Mozo probably consulted closely with Delieuvin, who is the main collaborator on the current Prado exhibition.

Last month, Delieuvin hosted a webinar for London’s Courtauld Institute about the challenges of organizing the 2019 show. He was asked why the Gulf version of “Salvator Mundi” wasn’t included. along with the painting Ganay, which hangs in the Louvre exhibition. Delieuvin said the Gulf version was requested but after “a long discussion” was not delivered.

Delieuvin spoke dispassionately of the Bay Area’s “Salvator Mundi,” saying that while “an interesting picture, it is not Leonardo’s most personal work.” The curator of the Louvre told the Courtauld panel that “it would be nice to have it (the Gulf painting) near the beautiful version of Ganay, which is the high-level workshop version.” The Ganay painting is also included in Prado’s current program.

In the Prado catalog, Delieuvin concludes of the Bay Area’s “Salvator Mundi”: “It is hoped that the future permanent exhibition of the work will allow it to be re-analyzed with greater objectivity.”

Above: Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” on display at Christie’s in London.


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