'Salvator Mundi' (Latin for 'Savior of the World') is a painting attributed in whole or in part to the Italian High Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, dated to c. 1499–1510.
'Salvator Mundi' is thought to have been commissioned by King Louis XII and his consort, Anne of Brittany.
French princess Henrietta Maria marries King Charles I of England, known to be the most prominent art collector of his time, and the painting journeyed to England, where it was hung in the private chambers of the Queen’s Greenwich Palace.
When King Charles I was executed, marking the end of the English Civil War, the painting was valued at a mere £30, and was later sold to John Stone, a mason who received it as a repayment of debts.
Wenceslaus Hollar, who was one of the most prolific artists of his time and known for producing decorate works by other artists, published a print based on a drawing he made of 'Salvator Mundi' with the inscription, ‘Leonardus da Vinci pinxit’- ‘Leonardo da Vinci painted it’ in Latin.
After being returned to the Crown when King Charles II was restored to the throne, 'Salvator Mundi' was believed to have remained at Whitehall until its disappearance.
After vanishing for around 200 years, 'Salvator Mundi' resurfaced when it was acquired from Sir Charles Robinson and placed in the Cook Collection in Doughty House as a work by Bernardino Luini, Leonardo’s follower. By this point, 'Salvator Mundi' had been heavily overpainted.
In the dispersal of the Cook Collection, 'Salvator Mundi' was sold at auction for £45, before disappearing once again for almost 50 years.
The painting was discovered at an American estate sale where it was acquired for $10,000 by Robert Simon, a New York art dealer, along with another gallerist, Alexander Parrish.
Professor Dianne Dwyer Modestini from New York University was commissioned to oversee the comprehensive restoration of the painting.
Parish sold 'Salvator Mundi' for $75-80 million to Yves Bouvier in a private sale brokered by Sotheby’s, New York, who then sold it to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for $127.5 million later that year.
In November 2017 at Christie’s, New York, after a tense bidding war between six buyers, the winning bidder, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, bought the 500-year-old 'Salvator Mundi' painting for a record-shattering $450.3 million, making it the most expensive painting ever auctioned.
The painting was acquired for the Louvre Abu Dhabi by the Crown Prince and expected to go on display in 2018. However, the unveiling was unexpectedly cancelled, and its loan to the Louvre Paris for the 2019-2020 Leonardo da Vinci exhibition did not happen. The painting has been out of sight from the art world ever since, but the controversy over this enigmatic painting’s attribution has proliferated.
The New York Times reported in April of 2021 that the no-show of the 'Salvator Mundi' painting in the Leonardo exhibition was due to the French refusing to meet Saudi demands- that it be hung alongside the 'Mona Lisa' and attributed solely to the hand of da Vinci- instead, they would label the painting merely as “from the workshop” of Leonardo. This move by the Louvre Paris caused widespread speculation that 'Salvator Mundi' might not be fully attributable to the Italian master, but rather that Leonardo da Vinci “only contributed” to the picture, and that its authenticity could not be confirmed. If this proves to be true, the painting’s value would plummet to somewhere around $1.5m.
‘The Savior for Sale’, Antoine Vitkine’s French feature-length documentary on 'Salvator Mundi' delves into the enigmatic and controversial story of the world’s most expensive painting. In the documentary, an anonymous senior official in French President Emmanuel Macron’s government tells Vitkine that the Louvre’s thorough scientific examination of the painting, conducted by a team of international specialists clandestinely, concluded that Leonardo da Vinci himself only made a “contribution” to the painting, and that its authenticity could not be confirmed.