While at least 30 versions of the ‘Saviour of the World’ are thought to have been made by pupils and artists connected to the great Leonardo da Vinci himself, numerous later copies by followers also exist.
Some of these remain in private collections and a few have emerged at auction in the last five years, fetching notable sums and showing that even works of rather patchy quality are now valuable commercial propositions.
Another version that in fact predated Leonardo’s painting by over a decade, by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-94), made an eye-catching £1.8m at Christie’s in London in December 2020 (see ATG No 2475).
No frame but fortune
The latest demonstration of demand came at an online auction of Old Masters run from Christie’s Paris that closed on November 28.
On offer was a 2ft 1in x 20in (63 x 51cm) oil on panel that came to auction without a frame and was consigned from a private collection in the south of France where it had been for between 50-70 years. It suffered from some significant condition issues, not least the paint loss down the centre of the panel.
Catalogued as simply ‘Italian school’, the work was estimated at €10,000-15,000.
However, thought to date from c.1600, a number of interested parties were prepared to go to a substantial level to acquire it, either due to the ongoing fascination with the famous image or in the belief that this was in fact an early copy of the Leonardo perhaps with a connection to his studio.
One suggestion made was that it had similarities to a version of Salvator Mundi formerly in the collection of French aristocrat and art collector Charles-Alexandre de Ganay which is ascribed to a pupil of the master.
After considerable competition, the current work was knocked down at €850,000 (£734,215) – or €1.062m (£917,335) with premium.
Not many Old Masters in such a state could sell for such a sum – again underlining the way the 2017 mega-sale has dragged up the entire Salvator Mundi sector.