“Maxwell Anderson consider yourself vindicated” a ‘Dallas Morning News’ story crowed back in December. The front page article concerned the decision by the Dallas Museum of Art’s board – back when it was under the direction of Maxwell Anderson – not to purchase ‘Salvator Mundi,’ a purported Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece. Imagine – Dallas had a chance for a da Vinci. Just the kind of tourist-y, high-culture coup we love. Back in 2012, when Anderson pitched the portrait of Jesus to the DMA board, we could have “snagged” it for a mere $125 million. But the DMA declined to pony up the cash. (And three years later, Anderson departed the DMA in a great hurry).
Instead, the painting was sold last year at auction for a record-breaking $450 million. The Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism acquired it and will unveil it next month at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
On the other hand … maybe the DMA made a sensible choice and dodged a headache.
In 2011, many leading Leonardo experts confirmed the painting’s da Vinci attribution when Luke Syson, who was the National Gallery curator at the time, included the painting in a Leonardo retrospective at the London gallery. But other Leonardo experts expressed doubts – and continue to do so. Joining them now is Matthew Landrus, a leading Leonardo scholar, who believes the great majority of the painting was actually done by Bernardino Luini, one of Leonardo’s assistants. Anywhere from only 5 percent to 20 percent of the painting, he estimates, was done by the great master.
The Guardian reports:
Frank Zöllner, a German art historian at the University of Leipzig, believes the Salvator Mundi could be a “high-quality product of Leonardo’s workshop” or even a later follower, and Charles Hope, the Italian Renaissance specialist, has argued that accepted Leonardo paintings look “quite different”.
Michael Daley, the director of ArtWatch UK, criticised the painting for its lack of Leonardo’s “greater naturalism and complexity of posture”, and said Landrus’s theory was “very interesting”.
Sources say that some Louvre staff also have their doubts. They were surprised to learn that Vincent Delieuvin, the head of the museum’s 16th-century Italian art and one of the curators of its Leonardo Paris exhibition, declined to comment on the painting when the Guardian approached him.
Landrus, a research fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford, has published numerous books on the artist. His latest, Leonardo da Vinci, is published in September.
The book is a substantial update of his 2006 publication, which has sold about 200,000 copies in 15 languages. The Salvator Mundi had not yet surfaced then as a Leonardo
Landrus said: “I can prove that Luini painted most of that painting. A comparison of Luini’s paintings with the Salvator Mundi will be sufficient evidence.” …
The Salvator Mundi was in fact attributed to Luini in 1900, when it was acquired by Sir Charles Robinson for the Cook collection. Landrus said: “It’s more accurate than just calling it a Leonardo.”
Why can’t all these experts make up their minds? A chief difficulty is that the painting has been “extensively restored.” Which means, even if it is a da Vinci, much of it is no longer his handiwork.