A Cynical Art Consultant Reviews Christie's Sale Of Salvator Mundi At A Record-Breaking $450,000,000

Did the auction elevate the painting to the rarified strata of 'priceless' works of art? Oscar WIlde defined a cynic as a person "who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing," thus some measure of cynicism may be wholly appropriate.
By: ArtConsultant.com
Met ex-director Thomas Campbell posted prerestoration photo PreserveTheBest.com
Met ex-director Thomas Campbell posted prerestoration photo PreserveTheBest.com
NEW YORK - Nov. 19, 2017 - PRLog -- 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, $120,000,000 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 workshop' 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." brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/9692

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 Selz 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

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. Browne has assigned direct MISSIonLINE addresses to a 2016 New York Times report on these controversies at http://LitigateBest.com and to the Philip Kennicott article at http://TheArtCollectorsReview.com.

Has Salvatore Mundi become "priceless"? Browne contends that will remain to be seen, "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." Acknowledging his lingering cynicism, the art consultant admits that, though he can report the price, he is no better able to estimate an absolute value more accurately than Sotheby's when they sold it for $80,00,000 in 2013 or Christie's, only shortly before last weeks auction, when they estimated that it would bring $100,000,000. "Determining the true value of a work of art is not, and has never been, a precise science."

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