The $450M Salvator Mundi was not painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

When I read in news that after two years of having been sold for $450M, the Salvator Mundi painting had resurfaced on a Saudi Prince’s Yatch, I scrambled to read all about it. I remember having read about the Christie’s Auction of the painting. Obviously! I remember thinking, a Da Vinci sells for almost half-a-billion – so what? 

But this new piece of information made me look at the images of the painting – over-painted, paint-peeled, repainted (restored) and shook my head in disbelief, because I can’t and won’t accept that it was painted by Leonardo da Vinci – he may have guided the hand that painted it, but he didn’t paint it himself – and I couldn’t be convinced otherwise. And why not? For a number of reasons, but let me start at the beginning…with the artist and not the art.

(For your viewing, here’s the restored version of the painting “Salavator Mundi” that was attributed to Leonardo da Vinci and subsequently sold for $450M.  by Christie’s  to Saudi prince, Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud reportedly acting on behalf of the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.)

Salvator Mundi - not-by-Leonardo-da-Vinci-Restored.

Leonardo da Vinci was left-handed (painted and wrote in reverse using his left hand, and wrote normally with his right,) exceptionally well-versed with anatomy (he’d exhume bodies to sketch them,) drew and painted in smooth curves, and was a man in a hurry for he was not only an artist but also an inventor who had a wide variety of interests.

Quoting from Wikipedia…Leonardo da Vinci was

an Italian polymath of the Renaissance whose areas of interest included invention, drawing, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography. He has been variously called the father of palaeontology, ichnology,[4] and architecture, and he is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time.

Also,

He conceptualised flying machines, a type of armoured fighting vehicle, concentrated solar power, an adding machine,[12] and the double hull.

All of this needed time – and to make time for painting, he needed to be really good and quick at it.

As an artist who has spent hours poring over Da Vinci’s works, here are my observations on Salvator Mundi and my complete refusal in attributing it to Leonardo da Vinci.

  1. The hair at the left of the face (at the right hand of the viewer) is painstakingly painted in tight-ringlets – the careless confidence in one’s skill makes an artist paint only the darks and light/brights – something that we see at the right side of the face (your left as you look at the picture,) – is missing from the stylized treatment of the hair that we witness at the left side of the face. Such details are the hallmark of a learner. Vinci always painted hair more naturally (In this painting, the hair at the right of the face could have been done by him to demonstrate the hair painting technique to his student who actually painted this portrait.)
  2. Note the bridge of the nose and review how the brow at the right of the face doesn’t vertically align with the inner corner of the eye (the way the left brow does with the left eye.) The upper lid of the right eye is painted straight while for the left eye, it is painted in a curve. The size of and the light reflected in the eyeballs don’t match. An artist of Vinci’s caliber could get the features right, even if the face of the model had these issues. All he needed was a few brush-strokes. Only a less experienced artist would let an imperfect face become the face of Christ. In all his other paintings, you see perfect faces – then why would he find an imperfect face to paint his Salvator Mundi?
  3. Note again, the details (brown and gold) upon the robe (scroll down to the pre-restoration after-cleaning original image below). Leonardo was a man in a hurry. He had too many talents and too little time. In my most improbable dreams, I couldn’t see Leonardo da Vinci hunched over the robe, painting those crisscrossing golden straight-lines on it. He painted fast (perhaps speed was the reason why he invented the Sfumato technique in which he mixed the shades of a color seamlessly by using the heel of his hand,) and he created such impressions of embroidery/silk by using quick brush-strokes. Check the following image to see how Leonardo worked with fabric, and also to see how he loved his contrast.La Belle Ferroniere
  4. Da Vinci’s paintings had higher contrast of colors (example: The portrait of La Belle Ferroniere above.) This particular Salvator Mundi painting has a very low contrast on the face. The lips appear to have been done by Da Vinci but the rest of the face isn’t painted with any degree of confidence. In the unrestored version (please see it below,) the eye-balls have either been painted over or not placed right, making the bearer of the eyes appear slightly cockeyed. None of the sketches or drawings indicate to me that Vinci was not confident of drawing/painting eyes.(Here’s the cleaned version (unrestored version) of the painting:)Salvator Mundi - cleaned and broken - but original before restoration. Leonardo da Vinci.
  5. The orb (the crystal ball) isn’t refractive (doesn’t distort the background seen through it,) a detail that Vinci wouldn’t miss. It also doesn’t reflect the light that’s lighting up Christ’s face and also the finger-tips of the hand that’s holding the orb. The fact that the fingers that hold the orb should receive the highlight but not the orb itself, surprises me. I don’t believe Vinci would skimp on a couple of brush-strokes that would make the orb look spherical and glassy. His need to get the proportions right got him to invent the grid; his urge to get the anatomy right sent him to graveyards – he was passionate about get such details right.
  6. The left shoulder of Christ juts out horizontally then drops sharply. Not one of Vinci’s other paintings or drawings uses this treatment for shoulders. He always rounded the shoulders off. The gathers on the robe, especially at the bottom aren’t defined clearly at all – in fact, they bear the mark of a learner’s brush. Check out Mona Lisa’s robe for reference. I do think that the gathers at the chest were touched by Vinci.
    Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

A Few Words about the Restoration:

I have no idea who did the restoration of this painting, but it was poorly restored. (Refer to the cleaned un-restored and the restored paintings.)

  • In the restored painting, the border of the robe is only half-constructed at the bottom, while the after-cleaning painting (above) shows the entire border (though somewhat hidden in the shadows.)
  • The restored painting fills in a solid deep blue in the two bottom triangular areas of the robe.
  • The thumb of the blessing hand is skewed to show the nail, which is anatomically incorrect. The restorer could be given the benefit of doubt, if any of the two thumbs (I see two thumbs in the cleaned image, and as an artist, I think the original artist may have painted over the first (vertical one) to let the thumb appear more relaxed.

If this were indeed a work of the Great Vinci, its restoration must’ve been done in a manner that its spirit stayed alive – I have a feeling that the restorer worked on it with the belief that it was a work of a lesser artist and so decided to cut some slack.

View the twenty known works that are/may be by Leonardo da Vinci, here.

Conclusion: The $450M Salvator Mundi was not done by Leonardo Da Vinci.

I believe that it was done someone he knew and guided (another artist who worked in his workshop and learned under Vinci’s tutelage,)  as I can see his technique and his corrective strokes.As an artist, I’d say that most of the work was done by another talented artist who was still learning, and Vinci oversaw his work.

Thanks.

And before I leave,

my 2010 tribute to the Great Master.

A caricature, cartoon, sketch, portrait of the great artist leonardo da vinci who was also a sculptor, an inventor, and a writer.

Monalisa’s Creator – Leonardo da Vinci!