Some in the art world may not know that the 500-year old masterpiece painting Salvator Mundi (“Savior of the World”) by Leonardo da Vinci that recently sold for nearly half a billion dollars is imperfect.  The work with a shady history was damaged and heavily repainted and then restored.  At least one well regarded Leonardo da Vinci expert went on record stating that he doesn’t believe the acclaimed artist was the primary artist behind the work.  The painting was owned by King Charles I in the 17th century, disappeared from records from 1763 to 1900, resurfaced again in 1958, and sold for under $10,000 in 2005.  Less than 10 years later, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev brought the work to the market after purchasing it for $127.5 million in 2013.

Before the recent November 15, 2017 sale of the painting at Christie’s in New York, it was reported that Nica Rieppi, Principal Investigator at Art Analysis & Research, and her scientific team spent four years using the latest technology and a number of art books in authenticating the da Vinci work.  The painting was meticulously analyzed down to a microscopic level in which the team took miniscule samples to determine the pigments, materials and techniques used in creating it.  Technical imaging with x-rays, infrared and ultraviolet technology was also used by the team to assess how the painting developed with each stroke.

According to Rieppi, science is becoming more important than ever in the growing “high-stakes world of multimillion-dollar fine art sales” and the purpose is to “get inside the head of the artist.”

The masterpiece painting is a depiction of Christ draped in a blue robe holding one hand in prayer and a crystal sphere in the other and is said to be one of less than 20 paintings known to be created by the Italian master.

A significant clue in establishing the authenticity of the work derived from the composition of the paint.  The scientific team, through microscopic sampling, detected the use of lapis lazuli, a very rare pigment considered more expensive than gold in Italy at the time, in “extraordinarily high quality” throughout the blue in Christ’s robe in the painting.  The pigment was imported from the Middle East and the material was “so expensive and only available to someone of a master and stature as Leonardo,” explained Rieppi.

A further clue as to the authenticity of the work was the use of complex and sophisticated layering by the artist.  Through the use of a powerful microscope, the scientific team discovered monochromatic layers that were applied to the canvas before the addition of the pigment.  This included the use of a warm brown color on Christ’s robe along with transparent washes throughout the painting.  Such details are said to be consistent with da Vinci’s technique in the unfinished work The Adoration of Magi.  Rieppi believes there is no doubt that anyone other than da Vinci could have created the work due to the uniqueness of the painting at a microscopic level.

The complex history of the painting left many in the art world perplexed as to its provenance with some outright doubtful.  In particular, Jacques Frank, an art historian and da Vinci specialist who had examined the work, said to the media that “[t]he 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.”

At the outset of authenticating the work, Rieppi and her scientific team approached the project with “doubt and skepticism” in view of the questionable history of the painting.  However, the materials lined up and the techniques aligned to a point in which it became clear to Rieppi and her team about the origin and identity of the da Vinci masterpiece.

As for where Rieppi sees things heading in the art market, the authenticator believes that “[s]cience is allowing us to move toward evidence-based connoisseurship.”

 

 

 

 

In recent art world news, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi (circa 1500) sold for $450.3 million on Wednesday evening at Christie’s postwar and contemporary art auction.  The sale of the rare masterpiece painting made history as the most expensive art market transaction of all time.  The work is believed to be the last painting by the renowned Renaissance artist in private hands.  Alex Rotter, Christie’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art for the Americas, represented the unidentified winning bidder on the phone after a nearly 20-minute bidding session that included five bidders (four on the phone and one in the room).

The previous highest art market transaction was recorded back in 2015 with the $300 million sale of Willem de Kooning’s Interchange (1955) purchased by Kenneth Griffin from David Geffen.

The Leonardo da Vinci lot accounted for more than half of the total sales at the evening auction, which came to an impressive $788.9 million.  The auction had a “respectable” sell-through rate of 84 percent.

After Wednesday evening’s history making sale at Christie’s, this begs the question from the art world as to whether there is no longer a ceiling in the sale of valuable works of art.  For thoughtful commentary on this, see “After Leonardo’s Sky-High Sale, the Art World Asks, Is There Still a Ceiling?” published online by the New York Times on November 16, 2017.

 

As recently reported by ArtNews, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper (1495-1498), one of the world’s most famous paintings, will be protected by an “advanced air filtration system” backed by Eataly that is expected to extend the life of the work for 500 years beginning in 2019.

To save this important piece of Italian heritage, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism designed an air-filtration system in collaboration with top Italian research institutes (ISCR, CNR, Polytechnic Institute of Milan, and the University of Milano Bicocca).  The cutting-edge system will filter in approximately 10,000 cubic meters of clean air into the convent every day (compared to the current 3,500 cubic meters), breathing five centuries of life into The Last Supper and allowing many more visitors to admire it.”

The impetus behind the move to save The Last Supper is that the famed work is deteriorating quickly, primarily due to the “factors of time, humidity, wartime bombs, and the fact that it was once housed in a prison.”  Without taking any action to save this significant work, the masterpiece may “one day be destroyed beyond repair.”

Thanks to Eataly’s efforts to save one of the world’s greatest masterpieces, no longer will The Last Supper “disappear more each day and with each visitor’s microscopic dust.”

An intriguing story recently ran in the International New York Times in which it was reported that a drawing known as “La Bella Principessa” owned by Canadian art collector Peter Silverman and purchased for around $20,000 in 2007 may or may not be an authentic long-lost masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci potentially worth up to $150 million.

The art world controversy surrounding the drawing involves a newly developed twist with Shaun Greenhalgh, the infamous British art forger who is “thought to have created fakes that spanned centuries of art history”, now declaring it to be his work.

Greenhalgh was sentenced to over four and a half years in prison on forgery-related charges back in 2007 and was responsible for a number of “well-documented fakes”, such as a Guaguin sculpture of a faun purchased by the Art Institute of Chicago and an Egyptian alabaster sculpture of a princess purchased by the Bolton Museum.

The story of “La Bella Principessa” and its attribution began in January 1998 when New York art dealer Kate Ganz purchased a “head-and-shoulders study of an aristocratic young woman”, viewed in profile and dressed in the Italian Renaissance style, for nearly $22,000 (with fees) at Christie’s in New York.  The drawing was created in pen, ink, chalk and watercolor on vellum, and was cataloged by Christie’s as “early 19th century, possibly German.”

In January 2007, Ganz sold the drawing described as “based on a number of paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and may have been made by a German artist studying in Italy” to current owner Silverman for the above original purchase price (less a dealer’s discount).

In June 2008, a company in Paris specializing in digital scanning, Lumiere Technology, announced that its analysis of the drawing had determined that the work was by da Vinci.  Thereafter, the work was valued at £100 million by London art dealer Dickinson, who offered the drawing for purchase to select clients.

In October 2009, a Dickinson adviser declared the work an authentic da Vinci in an article published in The Times of London.  In addition, the attribution has been endorsed by at least six da Vinci scholars.

As an authentic da Vinci, the drawing has yet to win over the art world.  Notably, the work has not been exhibited in any major art museum and it was excluded from the landmark exhibition entitled “Leonardo da Vinci:  Painter at the Court of Milan” at the National Gallery in London running from November 2011 to February 2012.

Most recently as of last week, Kasia Pisarek, an independent art historian specializing in attribution, was the latest scholar to make a case that “La Bella Principessa” is not a da Vinci.  In her paper presented at a London conference, Pisarek went through a checklist of apparent “inconsistencies”—i.e., lack of any documentation or copies, presence of just three stitch-holes in the side of the vellum sheet, and anatomically incorrect quality of the drawing itself.  Pisarek concluded that “the present attribution to [da Vinci] must be deemed unreliable.”

As for the current whereabouts of the controversial drawing, it is being held at the Geneva Freeport storage warehouse and is not currently available for purchase, according to Silverman, who mentioned that he had been offered $60 million for the drawing in 2012 but had turned down the offer.  Silverman said that he would like “the drawing to be shown all over the world so that people can decide for themselves.”

Depending on which account one believes, it can be summed up that “La Bella Principessa” is either an authentic da Vinci worth in the multi-millions; a 19th-century Italian Renaissance style drawing worth in the tens of thousands; or a modern era fake worth barely anything.