LONDON – Christie’s exhibited on Tuesday a perplexing and iconic painting by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci in London ahead of its upcoming auction in New York.
“Salvator Mundi,” or the Savior of the World, which was only recently attributed to Da Vinci, had already been shown in Hong Kong and San Francisco as it toured the world before its auction on Nov. 15, where it’s expected to fetch up to $100 million.
“Despite being created approximately 500 years ago, the work of Leonardo is just as influential to the art that is being created today as it was in the 15th and 16th centuries,” said Loic Gouzer, the Christie’s Chairman of Post-War and Contemporary Art who will include it in one of his auctions as he believed “offering this painting within the context of our Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale is a testament to the enduring relevance of this picture.”
The rediscovered masterpiece is one of only 20 known paintings by Da Vinci, and is believed to have been produced between 1490-1519.
It portrays Jesus as the savior, dressed in ornate clothes and holding a clear crystal ball in his left hand while raising his right in an apparent sign of a benediction.
“Salvator Mundi” is considered to be the greatest artistic rediscovery of the 21st century as, though many experts suspected it existed, until 2005 it was believed to have been destroyed.
It surfaced in a small regional auction in the United States and had been covered with paint and mistaken for a copy made by a follower of Da Vinci’s, Bernardino Luini, according to Christie’s.
Following a long process of restoration and analysis by experts, it was officially attributed to Da Vinci in 2011, though some dissenting voices in the art world warn that it could be a high-quality copy by someone at the artist’s workshop or a follower of his.
One subject of controversy is how someone with Da Vinci’s detailed knowledge of science could have painted the orb more like a soap bubble than a solid glass or crystal ball.
“Leonardo failed to paint the distortion that would occur when looking through a solid clear orb at objects that are not touching the orb,” Walter Isaacson in his new biography, “Leonardo da Vinci” (Simon & Schuster).
This lack of accuracy has perplexed experts, Isaacson said, considering it “an unusual lapse or unwillingness by Leonardo to link art and science.”
He said that Da Vinci had dedicated a great deal of time to researching the effects of light around the time this painting would have been produced.
“Notebook pages are filled with diagrams of light bouncing around at different angles,” Isaacson said.
Christie’s are to exhibit “Salvator Mundi” in London until Thursday, before auctioning it in New York on Nov. 15.