Jesus had male lovers

Salvator Mundi - expensive and highly controversial

500 years after his death, Leonardo da Vinci is more famous than any other artist in history. But much about him is still puzzling, the whereabouts of many of his works are mysterious. The excitement on the art market is all the greater when - as recently with the "Salvator Mundi" - an alleged original appears

The big K is there. Sir Kenneth Clark. The man who knows Leonardo better than anyone of his time. As early as 1930 he put Leonardo's drawings in the possession of the British royal family. So convincing was his catalog that the art historian was promoted to director of the National Gallery in London. Since then, it has been enough in the art scene to speak of K, and everyone knows who is meant.

It is said that one could look at any drawing, any painting from the Leonardo period, and he would immediately know what it was about. His intuition and expertise are well known.

Well, on June 25, 1958, the employees of the Sotheby’s auction house recognized him as soon as he entered the house in London. The art historian wants to follow the auction of a private collection and maybe buy something.

At some point, lot 40 will be called. On the easel is a poorly preserved painting with a close-up of Christ. It is said to come from the Leonardo student Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio or, as some say, from one of his successors. A Sir Kenneth Clark does not raise his hand for such a thing. The dealers in the hall who specialize in Renaissance art also sit motionless on their chairs. Furniture dealer Warren E. Kuntz was awarded the contract. For 45 pounds he now buys the "Salvator Mundi", the "Christ as Savior". Religion is important to Kuntz, he wants the picture for his personal devotion.

Da Vinci is the epitome of genius

This Christ is a well-groomed, long-haired man, like there are quite a few in the Leonardo School. He looks at the viewer and blesses him with his right hand. In the other hand he carries a shimmering glass ball as a symbol of the world.

Neither Clark nor Kuntz nor anyone else suspects that the small wooden plaque will develop into one of the greatest sensations in the history of the art market. Almost 60 years later, on November 15, 2017, the hammer fell at $ 400 million in the New York hall of Sotheby’s arch-rival Christie’s. No painting has ever achieved such a price at auction. The "Salvator Mundi" is now the most expensive painting in the world. Because the picture, it is believed now, comes from Leonardo himself.

500 years after his death, the Vinci man is the epitome of genius. No painter is as well known as he, no work of art as famous as his "Mona Lisa". The man, of whom no more than 15 paintings have survived, stands for inventiveness, for an inexhaustible wealth of ideas, for an art as haunting as it has hardly ever been created again. And because his works are so rare, he now also stands for big money.

Leonardo is revered as an artist and inventor

Did Leonardo ever imagine that one day he would become the trophy of the super-rich? Hardly likely. But he was very interested in his fame. The people a painter shows would all die, he once said, but his pictures remain in the world. To impress people centuries later: this is a prospect that attracts him.

His lover Salaì may have acted out of self-interest when he presented Leonardo's painting to the French King Francis I shortly before or after the master's death on May 2, 1519. But in this way he ensures that important paintings, including the “Mona Lisa”, “Anna Selbdritt” and “John the Baptist”, come into good hands. They will never be lost and will eventually end up in the hands of the French state.

And Leonardo's secretary Francesco Melzi sorts all of the master's writings on art theory. Copies of the texts soon circulated among artists; In 1651 his “Treatise on Painting” was printed in French and Italian and soon appeared in numerous editions.

After the French Revolution, in the age of the natural sciences, scholars began to be interested in Leonardo's other research. And in the late 19th century, Leonardo was rediscovered as a technical inventor.

At this point, visitors are already admiring his paintings. In 1818, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe made the “Last Supper” in Milan known north of the Alps in a euphoric essay.

Other publicists are scared of Leonardo's art. In 1858 the author Théophile Gautier felt “like a schoolboy in front of a duchess” in front of the “Mona Lisa” in the Louvre. His colleague Walter Pater calls the person portrayed a “vampire” who knows about the “secrets of the grave”.

The "Mona Lisa" becomes the image of the pictures

Leonardo also wanted to give his feminine figures a soul and a will of their own - in the age of the dawning emancipation of women, this seems to be more frightening than inviting for some male viewers.

In any case, the “Mona Lisa” arouses strong emotions, and that soon makes her the image of the pictures. In 1911 she is so famous that it might be worth stealing from. The Italian house painter Vincenzo Perugia hid in a closet in the Louvre on August 20 and had himself locked up overnight. The next day is a Monday when the museum is closed.

Perugia waits until the cleaning crew has done its job, climbs out of the closet and takes off the "Mona Lisa". A plumber helps him leave the building.

The public was shocked and the robbery made headlines for months. There is no trace of the painting and the investigation has come to nothing. Even Pablo Picasso is temporarily suspected of being behind the scenes. A fraudster secretly contacts wealthy collectors, claims he owns the original - and sells them copies.

After two years, Perugia offered the painting to the Uffizi in Florence for sale. He is caught and now tries to appeal to the Italian national pride: He brought the picture of Lisa del Giocondo back to her homeland. He still has to go to jail. But “Mona Lisa” is allowed to travel through Italian museums before returning to the Louvre. Now people who have never entered a museum know the painting and its creator.

Codex Arundel You can now leaf through Leonardo da Vinci's notes

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So much success provokes contradiction. In 1919, the artist Marcel Duchamp took a postcard of the picture, marked the woman's beard with a pencil and provided the piece with a sequence of letters whose French pronunciation resulted in the sentence “It's warm on her ass”.

The ridicule disappears in the course of the 20th century, all that remains is respect, even veneration. Andy Warhol tells of the power of Mona Lisa when he depicts the figure in series on his screen prints in 1963. And when computer technology began to change the lives of more and more people in the West in the 1990s, Leonardo appeared to some as a technical visionary.

In 1994 the software pioneer Bill Gates acquired an important manuscript of the master, the "Codex Leicester"; that Leonardo failed with most of his inventions is no longer of interest.

The National Gallery names 2011 Leonardo da Vinci as the creator of the "Salvator Mundi"

November 2011 is as dark, humid and inhospitable as pretty much every November in London. Nevertheless, day after day people stand in Trafalgar Square and wait for hours; some sleep in sleeping bags on the square: the National Gallery has just opened one of the rare exhibitions of works of art by Leonardo da Vinci.

You can admire both versions of his “Madonna in the Rocks”, the “Belle Ferronière” and “Saint Jerome”. Anyone who has finally got hold of a ticket for the show sees more paintings and drawings by Leonardo than the master himself has ever collected in his workshop at the same time.

With one picture, however, it is questionable whether Leonardo knew it at all: Between the master’s originals, the “Salvator Mundi” turns to the audience, blesses the viewer with his right hand, shows them his glass ball with his left hand. Apart from that, the ringlets fall over the shoulders. His eyes appear dazed.

For the first time a large public can inspect the wooden panel. After the furniture dealer Kuntz and his wife, their nephew died in 2004. His heirs apparently couldn't find a renowned auction house, and so the “Salvator” went under the hammer at a little-known gallery in New Orleans in April 2005.

The New York art dealer Robert Simon bought it there, on good luck. The enthusiastic man dreams of a discovery. In the hope of a big find, he has the badly damaged work examined and repaired.

Da Vinci's attribution met with resistance

The restorer discovers a signature on the painting with a slightly different finger position: the artist has corrected the blessing hand. Apparently when he was painting he was still looking for the right form instead of copying something else. The restorer and dealer now believe that they have an original in front of them. And its creator is: Leonardo da Vinci.

In 2008 Robert Simon succeeded in bringing some of the most renowned Leonardo researchers together around the painting in the National Gallery in London. The British art historian Martin Kemp appears, a cultivated, gaunt man whose extravagant elegance is no less than his idol Leonardo da Vinci. In the eyes of many Britons, he is continuing the work of Kenneth Clark, the great K. His word is worth many millions of dollars in the art market, and it counts in the world of museums too.

Kemp later explains that he immediately felt the aura of the painting when he walked into the laboratory at the National Gallery. He saw many copies and variants of Leonardo's works in his life - "but this was something else". The feeling turns into a judgment: Kemp and some colleagues recognize the work as Leonardo's original.

The advocates believe that just as the artist turned to earthly nature in the “Mona Lisa”, so in the “Salvator Mundi” he dedicated himself to the cosmos symbolized by the glass ball in his hand. The National Gallery follows this line of argument. As the creator of the painting, she named in November 2011 on a board in the exhibition room next to the matt-looking Christ: “Leonardo da Vinci”.

The attribution caused a sensation - and immediately met with resistance. Other experts explain that the picture is at most a work from Leonardo's workshop. The Berlin Gemäldegalerie suggests that it has refused to buy the work - not only because of the horrendous price that the dealer consortium was asking, but mainly because the massively damaged picture was a “ruin”, too poorly received to allow a judgment felling. Other museums also waved their hand when the "Salvator" was offered to them for hundreds of millions.

Even painting technicians do not know who exactly once used the brush

Museum directors know this: First they receive photos of an allegedly misunderstood work by a master, by Leonardo, Michelangelo or Caravaggio, then the provider tries to convince them to look at the painting on site. And finally to buy.

Often it has already been processed by a restoration workshop at the time, mostly in one of the less good ones. If, however, a well-known art historian has already been found to support the attribution, then the media around the world will celebrate the supposed discovery.

The general enthusiasm can tempt museum curators to enter the history of art as explorers themselves. In most cases there is no clear evidence; who painted what is often a question of probability.

So the experts have to look carefully, check sources and ask: does a work fit the style of the master? Can gaps in the history of origin be explained? And how conclusive are the findings of the experts as well as X-ray and infrared images, pigment samples, wood analyzes?

Technical investigations can clarify which underpainting is there and how old the wood is. They provide information as to whether two panels come from the same tree and whether a mixture of pigments or a type of paint application also occur in other pictures by the painter. But even painting technicians do not know who exactly used the brush in the workshop.

If an X-ray image like the "Salvator" shows that the painter has corrected himself, it can mean that the artist first developed his composition at the easel and did not paint it with a colleague. But it can also simply be a successor that made a mistake while painting.

Even if the age of a picture corresponds to the artist's life dates and his style also corresponds to that of the master, new attributions are often unsustainable, even if one or the other connoisseur defends them. Often these are pictures that the artist has enjoyed taking time to learn from the painting style of their model. Therefore, they vaguely resemble works of the master.

Hardly anything in the “Bella principessa”, for example, is reminiscent of Leonardo's skill, a portrait painted in profile on parchment that is supposed to show Bianca Sforza, the illegitimate daughter of the Milanese ruler. And yet Martin Kemp, who is convinced of the painterly quality, considers da Vinci to be the creator of the work.

Others, however, recognize the hand of a 19th century artist. Leonardo did not work on parchment, his figures are never as sweet as this woman, and above all, in his depictions of young women, he broke early on with the profile view of girls that was common in Florence at the time.

Kemp is therefore almost alone in his assessment of the princess. No museum wants to show them permanently.

The "Salvator Mundi" reaches record sums on the art market

The "Salvator Mundi", on the other hand, is now starting a great career with the encouragement of the British. The show in the National Gallery helped the work to break through on the art market.

In a private purchase brokered by Sotheby’s in March 2014, an art broker bought the board for probably 75 to 80 million dollars. Within a few days he passed the picture on to a Russian oligarch for $ 127.5 million. He feels cheated when he finds out about the price difference, a legal dispute ensues, and in the end the painting is with Christie's.

There the auctioneers suspect: There is more to be done. A commodity whose price climbs from 80 to 127.5 million dollars in a very short period of time has not yet exhausted its potential. You are not offering the painting alongside other old master paintings, but at an auction for contemporary art. It is visited by billionaires who are only partially interested in how much color substance in a painting does not come from the Renaissance but from a restorer.

Soon the "Salvator Mundi" is considered a male Mona Lisa

On November 15, 2017, the day of the auction, Christie's employees will be standing behind a darkly paneled parapet. If you want to bid from outside, you will be put through by phone. Their faces are concentrated when “Lot 9 B” is called - the “Salvator Mundi”.

The opening bid is $ 70 million. Then it's quick. $ 353 million, $ 370 million. After 19 minutes the hammer drops at $ 400 million, with fees that makes $ 450.3 million for the buyer. The painting broke all auction records.

The picture, for which the Leonardo connoisseur Kenneth Clark did not even want to spend 45 pounds around 60 years ago, is now considered a male Mona Lisa. At least that is how the buyer from the Arab region and his subcontractor must see it on this day. The work is to be exhibited in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a new museum on the Persian Gulf, and proclaim the splendor and financial strength of the Emirates.

But the “Salvator Mundi” won't arrive in Abu Dhabi that quickly. Apparently the Christ with the glass ball is temporarily stored in Switzerland. And the discussion about what is real about this picture is intensifying.

The restorer has to be reproached for the fact that much of what is reminiscent of Leonardo's soft style in the picture came from her hand. The little that has been preserved of the old paint could also have been applied by a workshop employee of the master. Perhaps the painter added a few brushstrokes to the paint parts that have been lost today, but that remains pure speculation.

In addition, no source from the Renaissance mentions a Salvator painting by Leonardo - even though the artist was closely observed from the year 1500 onwards by contemporaries who complained that despite his immense talent, he painted so little. On the other hand, the motif of the world savior is known from the circle of Leonardo's students and successors: They repeatedly painted such figures of Christ.

What the master from Vinci has created, on the other hand, goes far beyond the “Salvator Mundi”. His figures, which are as clever as they are turned, are far more dynamic than the Salvator Christ depicted on the front with the petrified features.

Young women like Cecilia Gallerani, the Belle Ferronière or the Mona Lisa make contact with the viewer, lure him in, listen to him, promise a common ground at eye level. And the disciples of the Lord's Supper discuss instead of waiting for announcements from Jesus.

An imperious gesture of blessing is just not Leonardo's business. His religiosity is not authoritarian, it lives from respect for creation in all its forms.

In 2019, Leonardo becomes a dispute again

In spring 2019, the year of the 500th anniversary of his death, Leonardo becomes a political dispute. Italy and France quarrel for a long time over who the artist belongs to.

Italy's government is temporarily threatening to withhold loans that have already been promised for a major Leonardo show in the Louvre, since the artist was Italian and the 500th year of his death is therefore a national matter. The museum in Paris, however, owns the most important Leonardo paintings - because the master once emigrated and died in France.

And again a supposed Leonardo work appears. When an exhibition about his teacher Andrea del Verrocchio opens in Florence in March 2019, the curators present a Madonna sculpture made of clay as a not yet known youthful work of Leonardo. Mary's smile reminds her of his images of women, and the lively modulated child also seems to be related to the baby Jesus of the man from Vinci.

But: How can this be proven if not a single sculpture from his hand has come down to compare? It is more obvious that Leonardo took up impulses from Verrocchio's workshop in his painting (and in turn influenced the work of his colleagues).

Therefore, there will always be works from the Renaissance that resemble those of the master, but are not his own. He was not a solitaire, not a lonely genius, but a sensitive, thoughtful and attentive man who, like his characters, lived from exchanging ideas with others.