1 December 2017




By now you must have heard about Salvator Mundi, i.e. that painting that last month sold for 450.3 million dollars. Forget about Object of the Week", this is the object of the year.

Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi. Source.
The little oil-on-wood panel sold by Christie's is allegedly an authentic Leonardo, and may be one of 15-20 surviving paintings by da Vinci in existence. Note the use of allegedly" and may be" here   art experts and amateur spectators alike are divided over its legitimacy. Admittedly as a member of the latter category, here are some of the reasons why I think the Salvator Mundi is a fake.

1. Provenance

As students of the MMSt program, we're all familiar with how an object's provenance is critical to museum professionals in the process of identification and appraisal. Well, the Salvator Mundi has a messy one. There are hundreds of years unaccounted for, including over a century immediately following the creation of the work in the early 1500s. The painting was likely in the collection of King Charles I and II of England in the 17th and 18th centuries, which for some gives it credibility as an original. However, a second period spanning over a hundred years is lost between then, and the painting's reemergence in the 20th century. It's since been sold for tiny fractions of the recent auction price (as little as $10 thousand just over a decade ago)!

2. Composition

One of the hallmarks of a Leonardo is the use of complex compositional devices, like geometric formations, and S-curves" seen in both bodies and landscapes. Compared to similar works, like John the Baptist and even the Mona Lisa, the posing in Salvator Mundi feels distinctly stiff (Jerry Saltz agrees).

L: John the Baptist (c. 1513-16). Source. R: Mona Lisa (c.1503-05/07). Source.
Christie's has published a timeline of the painting, including an etching by Czech printmaker Wenceslaus Hollar depicting the Mundi in all its stiffness, and including the inscription Leonardo da Vinci painted it". While it certainly looks to be a copy after the Mundi, Hollar himself may have been incorrect in his assumption that the painting he was drawing was in fact made by Leonardo.

3. The “de Ganay" Salvator Mundi

What Christie's didn't include in their timeline was a drawing by Leonardo from the Royal Collection Trust. The drawing articulates some of the drapery details intended for the Mundi, including a fold between Christ's raised arm and the cross of his belt  a detail absent in Christie's Mundi, but present in the de Ganay" Mundi.

Once thought to be the original version of the Mundi by Leonardo himself (as opposed to a student or follower, there are some 20 versions in all), many experts advocate for the authenticity of the de Ganay Mundi. Clearly modelled with the same intentions as the Christie's Mundi, the de Ganay Mundi is unique in that its provenance places the work in the collection of Anne of Brittany. Though certainly no more royal than King Charles the I, the fact is noteworthy as Anne was the wife of the King of France, Louis XII, who we know was a direct patron to Leonardo.

Christie's has also claimed this connection to Louis XII in their proposed timeline, though the statement is preceded with a possibly" and followed by a most likely" (phrases that come up again and again in their account).

4. Restoration

And then there's this photograph of the Mundi in 1908-1910, pre-restoration.
I mean...
I'm tempted to leave that point there, but essentially the Christie's Mundi has been subjected to aggressive cleaning throughout its life, and the most recent restoration projects have been liberal in their efforts to fill in the blanks". Even if the surface was once touched by Leonardo, at what point does the deterioration and subsequent re-painting void any connection to the original artist's hand?

Whether or not you believe the Salvator Mundi is a true Leonardo, the news of its sale and the buzz it's generated both within and outside of the art and museum world has been fascinating. Despite the protestations of the doubtful, it's sold for the highest price that a painting has ever fetched at auction (previously, Picasso's Woman of Algiers held the title, which sold for $179.3 mil in 2015).

What do you think?
Real or fake?


  1. I believe the De Ganay is much more likely to be the original. There are many facts pointing to the De Ganay Mundi vs the Cook Mundi that seem to strongly suggest the latter does not has as much going for it as the De Ganay. I'm no expert, however the evidence I've reviewed doesn't take an expert to draw a strong conclusion. I'd say for sure the hand is a Leonardo on the Cook, but the rest of it is missing a great deal of evidence which the De Ganay has. When you stack up the reasons why, the clues to their provenance, the De Ganay's stack is just much higher. I'm sure I'll get stoned for this, but this is what I have come o believe.

    1. I agree! Of course I'm no expert either, but like you said, besides the numerous issues with the Cook Mundi, the evidence in favour of the De Ganay is compelling. I think in both cases, the paintings have suffered from inevitable deterioration and/or subsequent restoration efforts, but if I were to side with one of the other, it'd definitely be the De Ganay!

  2. Fake. 30 years teaching art and studying Leo and Mona so basics are:
    Wrong drawing style which has a fingerprint like detail to an experienced observer. Use of line value isn't the same
    Wrong white. Christie's is Titanium White but Mona is Zinc white (toxic) and it is a warmer (more yellow) white used by portrait artists like Leonardo da Vinci.
    Orb is wrong. Leo was studying light refraction like crazy at this time with prisms, orbs etc. so would know the image needed to be upside down or at this close distance distorted and he was crazy about backwards writing hence all his notes in mirrored format so the De Ganay distorts the chest strapping into a cross on the orb which makes sense and the hands holding the orb are correct in the De Ganay and any expert artist/master would never make a "hand holding an object-type error" which are there in the Christie's. Even Salador Dali who had to prove he could draw anything has an odd hand dynamic (overkill) style but no one has ever mastered perspective like Da Vinci (He has the math and the arts/language brain>left and right brained simultaneously!). A hand holding an orb coming at you? Genius and spooky difficult in terms of perspectrive. Talk about an overachiever and that is why the thing takes him 7 years to complete (I know he has projects all over and stops restarts them as well). I looked at one view of the orb and tried to see something in that non-existential sense of looking for logic and thought I saw an artist easle which if anything he definitely would have used a lens (globe) to send a hidden message. He was all "witchy poo" and encrypted like that so obviously to me in my opinion is that we should focus on God not the man of God as God sent down Jesus in human form so that we might understand Him, but we get all caught up in the "middle man" and Leo is saying for us to "focus on God", he is the true light. Sorry to the purchaser, but likely their fake was based on the rendering done by Hollar of the De Ganay because Louis the XII of France who had convinced Leonardo to do this work and it took from 1506 to 1513 to finally get it done and by that time the Queen (the intended recipient) had died so he donates it to Queen Henrietta who gets several artist renderings done and likely the base drawing that Christie's had was done by an artist (again by Hollar).
    So that there is a historic, scientific, artistic, philosophic and spiritual analysis. It's my story and I am sticking to it. I am by no means an "expert" but I am a lover of art and that is why my analysis is so "intense". I have spent hour over hours just looking at every paint flake (no, not with a real microscope) looking at Leonardo's work and "feeling" his work/art with my eyes and heart, especially the image of the Mona Lisa and this is the alleged "Male Mona". You guys decide though. :) Keep on truckin' ;)

    1. If Leo was saying to "focus on God and not the middleman" then perhaps it's true that da Vinci was a one time head of The Priori de Sion. Of course some would say this organization never existed but they would also be the people who believe the same about The Protocols of Zion. Nonetheless if both these are frauds it doesn't explain how the principle doctrine of both have come to be realized. Perhaps the gatekeepers of the Hegelian dialectic are doing what they've always done; obfuscation of the truth. Regardless of Satan's lies in the end all will be revealed. Like 12:2.

  3. Fake, it's proportion with the hand up is wrong as well as the orb fails to reflect light. Every time I see it (from the first time I saw the image) I saw not only a fake Da Vinci but was angry that we are all made out to be fools. This is fraud at it's worst.

  4. Tom Keating was a famous art faker in the UK. He tore pages out of ancient book and boiled walnut shells to make ancient ink. He beat the carbon daters. The paints Da Vinci used could be created today. They were from a natural form, no chemicals. An old canvas from the period or a piec of panel prized from the walls of a church or house from that period. Then you take say two years, you carefully paint on it, remove what you have painted, repaint and give the xray people and restorers something to find. Da Vinci sucked at hands. Anatomical drawings he excelled at, but paintting hands, he couldnt do. The orb, well that Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball (detail of artist reflected in a glass orb)
    Pieter Claesz
    c. 1628
    Oil on oak, 35.9 × 59 cm.
    Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg If you are going to tell a lie, tell a big lie. I guess this painting was maybe five years in the making. You have to get past the experts. And what are experts, usually people who want to find something, it's called confirmational bias.

  5. One thing is curious: Leonardo was a top scientist, the view trough the crystall ball should be upside down, and this was the big mistake has be done, whoever made it.

  6. Perhaps it's an intentional mistake for those in the know, with the artist chortling at his cleverness.