The Fishy Christie’s da Vinci; Suckers Beware: Christie’s Has Broken Faith With Art

As gathered and amended by Jerry Saltz

These 12 points are gathered from Part I of ArtWatch’s detailed documenting of the spuriousness of claims made by Christie’s that the work they are auctioning off is an actual Leonardo da Vinci, “a miraculous once-in-a-century-discovery.

1. Leonardo had more likely executed designs or a cartoon to inform his assistants and associates than to have executed a finished painted panel.

2. There exists no study by Leonardo for an otherwise out-of-character fully frontal view of Christ’s face, or for the distinctive and recurrent hand and orb motif.

3. The two drapery studies comprise the only accepted Leonardo material that might be associated with the group, but within the Leonardo literature there is no documentary record of the artist ever having been involved in such a painting project.

4. The first record of a work of this subject by the attributed hand of Leonardo occurs only in a questioned document, in the 17th century in England.

5. There is a glaring absentee on the Christie’s list – the author of the catalogue raisonné Leonardo da Vinci – the Complete Paintings and Drawings, Frank Zöllner – disagrees with the findings of these 13 people.

6. Zöllner writes: “also exhibits a number of weaknesses. The flesh tones of the blessing hand, for example, appear pallid and waxen as in a number of workshop paintings. Christ’s ringlets also seem to me too schematic in their execution, the larger drapery folds too undifferentiated, especially on the right-hand side. They do not begin to bear comparison with the Mona Lisa, for example….” He goes on to add, “We might sooner see the Salvator Mundi as a high-quality product of Leonardo’s workshop painted only after 1507.

7. He adds that the “strongly developed sfumato technique corresponds more closely to the manner of a talented Leonardo pupil active in the 1520s” And finally rightly concludes: “The way in which the painting was placed on the market also gave rise to concern.

8. Again, Christie’s has refused to make the final technical and chemical analysis of the painting. Here it is; from 2017 – read it and weep whatever sucker gets taken to the cleaners on this flimflam: “ seven years after the work was exhibited as a Leonardo in London and five years after it was first sold (for $80m) as a Leonardo.

9. In 2012, Charles Hope wrote of the painting in the New York Review: “Much more suspect, however, is a recently cleaned painting of Christ as Salvator Mundi from a private collection. This was recorded in a print of the mid-seventeenth century, and the composition is known in other versions. But even making allowances for its extremely poor state of preservation, it is a curiously unimpressive composition and it is hard to believe that Leonardo himself was responsible for anything so dull.

10. There are other serious problems. The first concerns provenance (where Christie’s pretends/maintains the painting has been since 1500). The facts come late and are grafted onto a daisy-chain of hypotheses, claims and assumptions.

11. Finally, on provenance: This picture is said to have passed through four centuries *only* via a “(Possibly) Commissioned”; “Possibly by descent”; “by whom possibly brought to England”; “probably by inheritance”; “from which probably removed”; “and probably by descent” to 1900.

12. It then took a further 111 years for this work to gain accreditation as a Leonardo when it was included in the National Gallery’s special exhibition “Leonardo, Painter at the Court of Milan” after a long and highly problematic restoration.