The exhibition of Leonardo at the Louvre, and the mystery of the Salvator Mundi

The great exhibition of the Louvre reopens the centuries-old mystery about the alleged «Salvator Mundi» by Leonardo da Vinci: here it is, it isn’t and perhaps it will come. In the exhibition dedicated to the 500 years from the death of the artist (tomorrow’s inauguration), a «Salvator Mundi» is there, but it’s not the right one if, for the right, or Leonardo’s, one, you mean the one auctioned at Christie’s in November 2017 for the record of 450 million US dollars.

Four international experts had attributed that painting to Leonardo and the National Gallery had exposed it as authentic in 2011. Sold at an auction to the heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, the work was supposed to go to the Abu Dhabi’s Louvre, but it’s vanished from the radar. For now it has not even arrived at the great Paris’s exhibition, and the doubts on its attribution increase. But the curators do not exclude that it can arrive while the exhibition is in progress.

The other painting

On the other hand, here, there is another «Salvator Mundi» from a private collection. It’s the so-called «Salvator Mundi de Ganay», from the name of the noble French family that owned it in the Twentieth century, originating from a monastery. None of the de Ganay family ever believed that it was by Leonardo. Twenty years ago, however, Carlo Pedretti — then the main Leonardo’s scholar — attributed it to the genius from Vinci, one of his students, Joanna Snow-Smith, wrote a monograph about the work, it was also presented to the Pope as authentic. This was the true «Salvator Mundi» by Leonardo up to when, in 2011, the National Gallery credited as the genius from Vinci legitimate work the other one — that is the one then owned by the american Robert Simon, then passed to the Russian oligarch Dmitri Rybovlev and, finally, to Saudi Arabia. Since then, the “old” «Salvator Mundi de Ganay» disappeared: it was sold as well by the French family, it is said to a Russian, and perhaps remained in a vault in Switzerland. Only to reappear now, suddenly, in the Louvre.


For the rest, the show is a celebration entitled «Léonard de Vinci», French style, as if to say that the artist is also French. Edited by Vincent Delieuvin and Louis Frank (catalogue Hazan 445 pages), exhibits eleven of less than twenty existing paintings by Leonardo, five of which are in the Louvre. In total, there are 162 works, all the notebooks from the Institut de France so far almost never exposed (brought by Napoleon from Italy to France). The country that has given the most pieces is the UK with nine drawings owned by the Queen; Italy has nine providers. From Italy two pieces are from the Ambrosiana, (the Musician and a drawing), the Scapiliata from Parma, and the Vitruvian Man (here, Homme de Vitruve) from the Academy of Venice. The reservations are already 200 thousand (to register go to the Louvre’s website). The Mona Lisa is not in the path of the exhibition «because, alone, it attracts 30 thousand visitors, and the exhibit space can only hold 7 thousand», but in its new location on a background of Prussian blue, a color which didn’t exist during Leonardo’s times.

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