Above is a digital image of the recently-rediscovered painting entitled Salvator Mundi (Latin for "Savior of the World") which art-history scholars, aided by close analysis and assisted by modern technology, believe to be an authentic painting by Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519).
The existence of such a painting by da Vinci was known from the many surviving copies of da Vinci's original which were painted by other artists following his lead, but until recently the location and identity of the original itself by da Vinci was unknown.
Indeed, the Salvator Mundi shown above, now believed to be the original by da Vinci, was thought to be just another one of the copies, and thus escaped notice, until it was purchased at an estate sale in Louisiana in 2005. Part of the reason for the lack of identification of the painting as a da Vinci original was the heavy "overpainting" which had been layered over the original artist's work down through the centuries.
The painting was put up for sale at a Sotheby's auction in 1958, described as a copy by an artist "after Leonardo da Vinci" (in other words, in the style of da Vinci, and in imitation of da Vinci). At the time, the painting was attributed to an artist named Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (1466 - 1516), who worked directly with da Vinci and who, along with the younger Bernardino Luini (1480 - 1532), was considered to be one of the top students of the master.
At the Sotheby's auction, the painting sold for 45 GBP, or about $120, to a buyer named Kuntz (specifically, "Kuntz Private Collection USA"). It is now almost certain that the buyers were Warren E. and Minnie Stanfill Kuntz, of New Orleans, who often traveled to Europe to purchase artwork for their collection, as detailed in this recent article in the Wall Street Journal.
Warren E. Kuntz lived from 1899 - 1968, and his wife Minnie Stanfill Kuntz lived from 1906 - 1987. After her passing, the painting was inherited by her nephew, Basil Clovis Hendry, Sr., of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Mr. Hendry lived from 1919 - 2004. After his passing, the painting was auctioned at an estate sale in 2005. A pair of art dealers, Robert Simon and Alexander Parrish, purchased the painting at the estate auction for less than $10,000 -- although the exact details of the purchase price are protected by a nondisclosure clause in a later deal they made when selling the painting for a reported price of $75 to $80 million, to Yves Bouvier, in 2013.
The significant jump in price between 2005 and 2013 is explained by the fact that, after purchasing the painting from the estate sale in Louisiana, dealers Simon and Parrish "teamed up with a few others to hire Dianne Dwyer Modestini, a paintings conservator at New York University, to clean and study it. After she realized the work might be a da Vinci, the dealers spent several years taking it to museum curators to seek validation" (as reported in the Wall Street Journal story of September 19, 2018 linked previously).
It was judged to be the original and first exhibited as such in 2011.
After purchasing the work (now authenticated by academics as the original Salvator Mundi by da Vinci) in 2013 from Parrish and a consortium of others, Yves Bouvier then sold it that same year to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, for about $127 million (according to the Wall Street Journal article linked previously, although this story in Business Insider says $127.5 million).
This purchase later became the source of a dispute between the two, which is part of the notorious "Bouvier Affair." Both articles linked above pass discreetly over this imbroglio with only the barest mention -- if you wish to read more about it you can conduct your own web search and find numerous articles which describe the complex details of the ongoing dispute.
The article in the Wall Street Journal implies that this dispute spurred the decision by Dmitry Rybolovlev to offer the painting for sale at Christie's, in 2017. Prior to the auction, Christie's apparently estimated that the work would only sell for about $100 million (which would obviously represent a loss over the previous sale price), but instead it sold for $450.3 million (including commission of about $300,000 to the auction house) to a buyer later revealed to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.
This purchase price represents the highest price ever paid for a painting to date.
The painting was then given as a diplomatic gift to Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates (and home of the UAE capitol city of the same name, Abu Dhabi). It is now part of the collection of a new art museum in Abu Dhabi, established in November of 2017, which paid about $525 million USD to the government of France for the right to use the "Louvre" name for the next thirty years -- and thus this museum will be known as the "Louvre Abu Dhabi."
Turning to the painting itself, the uncanny atmosphere and presence of the work does indeed strongly suggest that the work is that of Leonardo da Vinci himself. You can compare its proportions and artistic quality to that seen in the works of da Vinci's most highly-regarded direct understudies, Boltraffio and Luini (see here, here and here for example) and ask yourself whether f the works of those others, as gifted and as accomplished as Boltraffio and Luini clearly are as artists, display the same unworldly quality that is associated with the artwork of da Vinci himself.
In this interview published in 2011, Oxford professor emeritus of art history and Leonardo biographer Martin Kemp says of the above masterpiece, describing the first time he saw it:
You knew immediately?
Yeah. It was quite clear. It had that kind of presence that Leonardos have. The "Mona Lisa" has a presence. So after that initial reaction, which is kind of almost inside your body, as it were, you look at it and you think, well, the handling of the better-preserved parts, like the hair and so on, is just incredibly good. It's got that kind of uncanny vortex, as if the hair is a living, moving substance, or like water, which is what Leonardo said hair was like. So it almost ceases to become hair, and it becomes a source of energy in its own right. It's a very characteristic way of doing hair, which Leonardo has. Then the blessing hand has got a lot of very understated anatomical structure in it. All the versions of the "Salvator Mundi" — and we've got drawings of the drapery and lots of copies — all of them have rather tubular fingers. What Leonardo had done, and the copyists and imitators didn't pick up, was to get just how the knuckle sort of sits underneath the skin. And the blessing hands of the ones in the copies are all rather smooth and routine, but this is somebody who actually knew what — and, you know, this is a young person, this is not an elderly person — knew how the flesh lies over the knuckles. So, that's pretty good.
Professor Kemp goes on to explain that the artistic quality of the crystal orb held in the left hand of the painting's subject provides additional evidence for attributing the painting to da Vinci himself. The explanations and descriptions Professor Kemp gives of the double-refraction which Professor Kemp notices in the crystal sphere are worth reading in the original interview, linked above.
Additionally, Professor Kemp points out that depicting the Christ in the Salvator Mundi style but holding a crystal orb is an innovation that does not appear prior to this depiction, which is thought to date to about 1500 -- and that this detail also argues for attributing the painting to Leonardo. Professor Kemp explains:
And one of the points of the crystal sphere is that it relates iconographically to the crystalline sphere of the heavens, because in Ptolemaic cosmology the stars were in the fixed crystalline sphere, and so they were embedded. So what you've got in the "Salvator Mundi" is really a "a savior of the cosmos", and this is a very Leonardesque transformation.
You can look for yourself at numerous variations on the Salvator Mundi theme through the centuries, going back to the fourteenth, on this Wikimedia commons page.
Was Leonardo hinting that he understood that the characters and episodes described in the Biblical scriptures describe celestial figures, and the awesome motions of the celestial sphere? I would argue that it is very clear from other works by da Vinci that he incorporates specific constellational references in his art -- see for example previous discussions here and here.
The insightful Professor Kemp also points out that the painting appears to incorporate depth of field, with the upraised hand of blessing (the right hand of the subject, on the left as we face the painting itself) is quite clearly focused, in contrast to the face. Professor Kemp explains:
Another thing I subsequently looked at is that there's a difference from what we would call depth of field — the blessing hand and the tips of the fingers are in quite sharp focus. The face, even allowing for some of the damage, is in quite soft focus. Leonardo, in Manuscript D of 1507-1508, explored depth of field. If you bring something too close to you, you can't see it and it doesn't have a sense of focus. If you've got it an optimum point, it's much sharper. Then you move it away and it gets less sharp. He was investigating that phenomenon.
This characteristic would argue very strongly that this work was by Leonardo and none other. But it also may indicate that the artist wanted to call specific attention to the hand of blessing -- and I would again argue that, along with the crystal orb, the blessing hand has direct connections to the celestial sphere of the heavens, because this specific hand gesture (or mudra) is almost certainly derived from specific aspects of the outline of an important zodiac constellation.
I have previously argued at some length (such as in this 93-minute video on the identity of the Apostle Philip the Evangelist) that the specific hand gesture we see exhibited by the Christ figure in the artwork above (a hand gesture which is common to the Salvatore Mundi theme going back at least two centuries prior to the painting by da Vinci) relates directly to one of the distinctive features of the outline of the constellation Sagittarius.
Below is a star-chart showing Sagittarius and Scorpio, superimposed below the artwork on the bell krater attributed to the Pan Painter of ancient Greece (thought to have been painted in the first part of the fifth century BC), in which the distinctive crooked line which constitutes a kind of "plume" rising up from the head of the outline of the constellation Sagittarius can be clearly seen:
Note that in addition to depicting the goddess Artemis with the same distinctive posture as that seen in the outline of Sagittarius (to include her bent knee on the left side as we face the painting, as well as her bow and arrow held at the same angle as that seen in the constellation Sagittarius), the ancient artist has also included a sort of "plume" or "tassel" which corresponds to the distinctive "plume" of the constellation (in the artwork, this plume is seen atop the quiver or whatever it is which we can see over the shoulder of the goddess on the left of her head as we face the artwork).
I would argue that this distinctive feature of the constellation Sagittarius, which the ancient Greek artist depicts as a tassel in the bell-krater artwork shown above, manifests in the Salvator Mundi artwork as the familiar "blessing hand" gesture seen in the da Vinci painting (and which Professor Kemp sees as having been a specific focus of Leonardo in this particular Salvator Mundi).
I have previously argued that the figure of Saint Patrick, whose act of "chasing the snakes out of Ireland" is almost certainly based upon the fact that Sagittarius can be seen to "chase" the multi-headed serpentine form of Scorpio from the sky, is also a Sagittarius figure -- and Patrick is traditionally depicted holding up the same "blessing hand" in artistic representations, such as that shown below:
If some feel confused by the fact that this argument seems to indicate that Christ is associated with Sagittarius, along with Philip the Evangelist and the later figure of Patrick of Ireland, and wonder how all of them can be associated with the same constellation, it should be pointed out that the ancient myths appear to associate many figures with the same constellations. In previous posts I have used a modern metaphor to explain this phenomenon, based upon a quotation in Hamlet's Mill (1969) which declares that "The real actors on the stage of the universe are very few, if their adventures are many" (page 177), and said that it is similar to seeing a familiar actor in a different film and a different role than in previous films, perhaps wearing completely different attire or even speaking in a completely different accent or manner. In that analogy, the "actors" are the constellations, and they take on many different roles within the same myth-system of a culture, and across the superficially-different myth-systems of different cultures.
Christ in the scriptures is by no means always associated with the constellation Sagittarius. He can also be shown to "move through" other constellations, including Aquarius, Scorpio, and Ophiuchus (as explained in my 2016 book, Star Myths of the Bible). It is not at all uncommon for very important or central figures in any myth-system to "move through" multiple constellations during a cycle of episodes or adventures.
But Christ is certainly associated with Sagittarius at some points. It should be pointed out that Sagittarius is a "priestly" constellation in the scriptures of the Bible (and in other Star Myths from around the world), an association which is also discussed in Star Myths of the Bible. On page 147 of his important book Ancient Celtic New Zealand (1999), Martin Doutre also calls Sagittarius the "priestly sign." Note that Christ is explicitly described as fulfilling the priestly function in numerous scriptural passages, perhaps most directly in the epistle to the Hebrews, such as Hebrews 2: 17 and Hebrews 3: 1 and Hebrews 4: 14 (among others).
Sagittarius is the zodiac constellation that is furthest south of the celestial equator of all the zodiac constellations:
In the above screenshot from the free, open-source planetarium app Stellarium, I have turned "on" the grid-lines indicating the coordinates of the celestial sphere, so that you can see for yourself that Sagittarius does indeed have stars further to the south than any other zodiac constellation. In the star-chart above, the line of "zero elevation" indicates the celestial equator: it is the line stretching across the screen and marked by the "zero degrees" label which is indicated by the red arrow. The constellation Sagittarius is indicated by the yellow arrow, and you can see that stars of this constellation are located even further south of the line of the celestial equator than any of the stars in the constellation Scorpio, adjacent to Sagittarius.
Thus, Sagittarius is the constellation at the very "turning point" of the year (see discussion in this previous post), the constellation at the point of the "lowest descent" and thus appropriate to the figure of Christ, who in the scriptures of the (so-called) New Testament humbles himself to descend to the lowest place in order to raise men and women back up from their own lowest point: to point them to their own "turning point."
Noting the position of the sun when passing through the sign of Sagittarius, the Reverend Robert Taylor in the first half of the 1800s declared in a sermon that when Simeon in his prophecy regarding the Christ declares that he will be "a sign that is spoken against" (see Luke 2: 34), the text is indicating "the ninth of the twelve signs" (which is to say, Sagittarius -- see The Devil's Pulpit, page 10).
Thus, there appears to be ample supporting evidence for an association of the Christ with Sagittarius in some aspects -- and hence supporting evidence for the argument that the "blessing hand" mudra depicted in the traditional Salvatore Mundi artwork (to include this recently-rediscovered da Vinci painting) is a reference to Sagittarius as well.
Leonardo da Vinci seems to be hinting at these truths in this amazing work of art. We should be grateful that this hidden masterpiece has been rediscovered.
It is, however, sadly ironic that the convoluted journey that this incredible treasure has taken over the centuries, ending up in the "Louvre Abu Dhabi" reveals what can accurately be described as the "neo-feudal" aspects of the modern world economic landscape.
The original Louvre museum, as Andrew McClellan explains in Inventing the Louvre, was seen during the time of the French Revolution as "a sign of popular sovereignty and the triumph over despotism" (7). Great art was to be displayed for all the people (who could visit the Louvre free of charge on three days out of each week) rather than just for the oligarchs of Europe.
The much-criticized decision by the government of France to sell the name "Louvre" to Abu Dhabi, a nation currently engaged along with Saudi Arabia in waging an illegal and unspeakably horrific war (supported by weapons, tax dollars, and airborne refueling capabilities from the united states as well as other NATO countries) against the impoverished men, women and children of Yemen, can be seen as emblematic of the same "privatization" and "selling out" which characterizes neoliberalism, as discussed in a previous post about museums and artwork, entitled "Transforming everyone and everything into commodities: arguments that museums should sell off their art expose the self-devouring rot at the heart of neoliberalism."
It can easily be argued that this da Vinci painting is, not merely a "national treasure" (which should not be sold off to private individuals), but indeed a "world treasure," rather than a trading token for private speculators to use to swindle one another for enormous speculative gains.
The path that the painting has taken, however, from Louis XII of France to Charles I of England (thought to have been brought to England by his Henriette Marie of France, when she married Charles in 1625), to a long period during which its exact whereabouts are now unknown, after Charles died and the painting was given to his creditors in order to settle his debts, to its resurfacing and subsequent sales as described above, can be seen as a metaphor for Michael Hudson's arguments that modern neo-liberalism can actually be properly understood to be a form of neo-feudalism, as discussed in previous posts such as this oneand this one.
Most of the articles you will find discussing the various auctions of da Vinci's Salvator Mundi (such as the Wall Street Journal article linked above) report the rapidly accelerating sale prices of the painting, on its way to the highest price ever paid for any painting in recorded history, as something to be excited about, rather than as a symptom of the way in which all kinds of treasures which should be seen as properly belonging to the people -- especially in this supposedly-democratic post-feudal era -- have been privatized and sold off to benefit a small number of oligarchs.
While the painting has at least been given to a museum, where it will be displayed for those who can go see it in Abu Dhabi, one could also argue that this latest stop on Salvator Mundi's long journey typifies the use of oil money to try to buy legitimacy for regimes which are currently engaged in war crimes akin to those which shocked the world during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, which inspired a different artist to paint a very different work of art, shown below.
The complete failure of any of the media articles which discuss the amazing rediscovery of da Vinci's Salvator Mundi to give any of the above perspective reveals that the controlled corporate media in general serves to provide cover for neoliberalism, in large part by completely obscuring the very existence of something called "neoliberalism" or its identifying features, which can be summarized as the privatization of that which nature (or the gods) have given to all of the people, and which inevitably gives rise to the twin evils of "making war and plundering the planet" (as described by Professor Claudia von Werlhof, in an essay discussed here).
Leonardo's painting is an incredible treasure, and one which points to the undeniable message that the world's ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories are built upon the stars of the heavenly sphere, and allegorize the majestic celestial cycles. In doing so, the ancient myths convey profound and timeless truths regarding the reality of the Invisible Realm which connects all of us to one another, to nature, and to our planet itself -- the Invisible Realm which is the source of every blessing, of all the gifts which are given by nature (to include the gifts of the sunshine, of oceans, of forests, and of mineral wealth buried under the earth), and even of the gift of life itself.
Our departure from these ancient teachings -- and, more specifically, the deliberate usurpation and inversion of those ancient teachings by those wanting to take all of the benefit from those gifts for themselves, while denying them to other men and women -- is in large part responsible for the precarious state of affairs in which we find ourselves at this particular moment in history.
Perhaps the message of Leonardo's Salvator Mundi, buried in obscurity for the past two-and-a-half centuries, and seen by only a privileged few in the two-and-a-half centuries before that, will help to awaken us to the truth, and enable us to make changes that will ensure a better future for future generations, and greater understanding of the precious inheritance represented by the ancient wisdom which was given to all humanity in the world's ancient Star Myths.