'Not remotely like a da Vinci': New York Magazine art critic doubts authenticity
Published Thursday, November 16, 2017 8:49PM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 24, 2017 11:43AM EST
A day before the painting “Salvator Mundi” sold for a record-breaking US$450 million, New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz had already called the work a “probable copy” and a “two-dimensional ersatz dashboard Jesus.”
“I think we’ve wished this da Vinci into existence,” Saltz told CTV News Channel from New York on Thursday. “I think it’s fake art news.”
The painting, whose Latin name means “Saviour of the World,” was sold to an unnamed private buyer by Christie’s auction house on Wednesday, shattering a previous art sale record by more than $150 million. According to Christie’s, the painting dates from around 1500 and was painted by the great Italian Renaissance artist and polymath Leonardo da Vinci. In the run-up to this week’s auction, Christie’s billed the painting as “the last da Vinci” and “the greatest and most unexpected artistic rediscovery of the 21st century.” There are fewer than 20 known da Vinci paintings in the world.
But Saltz disagrees, and there are others in the art world who question the attribution. "I think it’s a real flimflam,” Saltz said. “I think that if you really look at this painting, Leonardo never painted anyone remotely like this: never anybody looking dead-on, never a surface this dull, inert -- a mess! And Christie’s claims there’s a consensus claiming that it might be real. Actually, it’s 12 people and the foremost da Vinci expert in the world thinks on the contrary, that this is not remotely like a da Vinci.”
Allegedly painted between masterpieces like “The Last Supper” and the “Mona Lisa,” the comparatively bland “Salvator Mundi,” Saltz added, seems very out-of-place.
“Christie’s is really banking on this being real based on maybe two drawings that are similar to Jesus’ sleeves,” Saltz said. “But Leonardo definitely did do drawings like this, but these were done for his students to show them how to do sleeves. He didn’t paint this painting.”
Although Christie’s refused an on camera interview with CTV News, in written communication, Christie’s claims there were “multiple elements, detailed studies, expert opinions and research used to assess the authorship of the painting," all of which are detailed in Christie's catalogue. Some of the most significant points, include: “Technical examinations and analyses have demonstrated the consistency of the pigments, media, and technique discovered in Salvator Mundi with those known to have been used by Leonardo."
As well, according to Christie’s “the painting technique is close to that of the Mona Lisa and the Saint John the Baptist, the face in particular built up with multiple, extremely thin paint layers, another distinctive technical aspect that support Leonardo’s authorship.”
Christie’s also claims that the authenticity of the painting was confirmed in 2011 by established experts after more than 5 years of research and study. And that the authenticity was reconfirmed for Christie’s prior to the sale, by 10 separate leading scholars of Leonardo da Vinci and Renaissance period painting (including Luke Syson, previously the Curator of Italian Paintings before 1500 and Head of Research at the National Gallery, London). Syson featured the painting in a major exhibition at the National Gallery in 2011.
In another interview with CTV News Channel, artist Marco Sassone said he believes the painting is authentic based on the gaze, face and eyes of “Salvator Mundi.”
But Saltz says if the painting is in fact a genuine da Vinci, it should never have been auctioned off to a private buyer in the first place. “If it’s a da Vinci, it belongs in a museum,” Saltz declared.
With files from CTV News Channel and The Associated Press
Update includes written comments from Christie’s