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Disarming new findings on Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi.

In a direct rebuke to contemporary art yenta Jerry Saltz, who flapped his gums with zero expertise in material science loudly proclaimed No, the better informed Louvre’s examination determined otherwise. Specifically as an original not a copy of the picture with independent analysis suggest blessing hand and arm were not part of the artist’s original concept. Two examinations of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi suggest that it was initially conceived as just a head and shoulders, with the hands and arms added later on.

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What is the most characteristic element of a Salvator Mundi, the archetypal image of Christ as Saviour of the World? It is Christ’s right hand raised in blessing. The left hand cradling an orb completes the type, which was fashionable in north-eastern Italy from around 1500, originating in Northern Europe.

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But now, two very different kinds of examination of Leonardo’s enigmatic picture, which sold for $450m at Christie’s New York in 2017 and is now owned by the Saudi Arabian culture ministry, suggest that this “Salvator Mundi” was initially conceived as just a head and shoulders, with the hands and arms added later on. One analysis was conducted by the Louvre’s experts, when Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture permitted detailed scientific analysis of its picture in 2018; the other was conducted by a computer scientist and an art historian, and has just been accepted for publication in The MIT Press’s Leonardo journal. The computer-generated findings go further in their conclusions, classifying the blessing arm and hand as strongly “not Leonardo”.

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The results of the Louvre analysis have not been publicly scrutinised: they are the subject of a book produced in the latter part of 2019, whose publication was cancelled when the loan of the picture to the Louvre’s Leonardo exhibition was refused. (The museum is barred from commenting on privately owned paintings that it has not displayed.) The Art Newspaper revealed the existence of stray copies of the book last year and has now seen a further copy, enabling us to report on the modifications made during the picture’s evolution. Key to the book’s conclusions is a preface by the Louvre’s president Jean-Luc Martinez, in which he fully supports the attribution to Leonardo.

Read more on The Art Newspaper:

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In defence of Leonardo

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