As most of you are aware, last week Christie’s New York broke world records with the sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’. Hammer price being $400 million including buyer’s premium.
Whether you think the ‘Salvator Mundi’ is worth the $400 million price tag, there is no question that this work has had the whole of the art world talking. What you may not have seen was an image of the work before its extensive restoration (below) that was published by Thomas Campbell, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
What can be gleaned from this is that as well as the work having a widely disputed provenance and authenticity the condition was also very poor. It is clear to see the extreme damages that had occurred the length of the canvas in particular to Christ’s eyes and lips as well as subsequent cracking and loss of pigment. The painting had clearly been mishandled, painted over, and poorly restored with an artificial resin that subsequently congealed and turned grey.
The restorer Dianne Dwyer Modestini, a professor at the Conservation Centre of New York University who took on the six-year restoration process to work on it from 2007 told CNN in 2011, “I wanted [to be sure] that none of my restorations had impinged on the original, that I had not done too much, because old pictures have to look old—if you take out every crack, every spot, every anomaly, they can easily look like a reproduction.” However, a degree of artistic license would have to have taken place to restore the work, even the decision of which cracked areas to keep and which to restore would have been up to Modestini and her team.
This ultimately calls into question the extent of the conservation work and how much actually remains from the “hand of Leonardo”, as New York magazine critic Jerry Saltz relayed the anonymous tip that “90 percent of it was painted in the last 50 years”.
With the work continuing to cause speculation and controversy on whether it has now been “over-restored”, we are fascinated to see the next stage of this painting’s journey.