So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
The book is illustrated with detailed X-ray and infrared images taken in the laboratory. The scholars conclude that all the elements studied at the Louvre "encourage us to give preference to the idea that the work is completely original". In his essay, the chief curator of the Louvre painting department, Vincent Delieuvin, mentioned that there is no evidence of Leonardo’s authorship in the documents of that time. At the same time, there are his preparatory drawings for The Saviour of the World in the Royal Collection in Windsor and a 17th century
The findings of French experts largely confirm the conclusions obtained by the restorer Dianne Modestini. Additional arguments were found during research on Leonardo’s masterpieces from the Louvre collection. In particular, these are The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, St. John the Baptist and Mona Lisa. The two latter are especially important.
Key takeaways from the book• The panel is of walnut used by Leonardo and his circle, especially in Lombardy (the artist spent a significant part of his life in Milan).
• There is a subtle "almost imperceptible" initial drawing (visible in infrared images) "very close to Mona Lisa and St. John the Baptist". The picture itself is strikingly different from studio copies, especially from the two most similar to it — the version of the Marquis de Ganay or the image from San Domenico Maggiore in Naples. Both of them are also painted on walnut panels and are similar in composition.
• Hair curls, arms, some parts of the mouth and eyes are great. They have a much more pronounced volume than the two mentioned versions. The mouth resembles that of St. John the Baptist.
• "Despite the gaps and scuffs, in the best-preserved parts one can trace a particularly virtuoso visual technique based on transparent glaze, which allows making subtle transitions from shadow to light, softening the contours (the famous ‘sfumato') and emphasizing the face relief. This technique refers to the work of Leonardo within his mature period between 1500 and 1510, such as St. John the Baptist."
Delieuven emphasizes the main things that distinguish the examined panel from other works of Leonardo’s studio, including de Ganay’s version, which was shown at the exhibition in the Louvre. It is "a very subtle underpainting, the presence of numerous pentimentos and the exceptional pictorial quality of well preserved parts."
"All these factors lead us to give preference to the idea that the work is completely original and, unfortunately, damaged due to poor storage and previous rough restorations," the expert concludes.
"It seems to us that Leonardo really painted the picture. In this context, it is important to distinguish the original fragments from those that have been altered or repainted […] Microscopic examination revealed a very skilful execution, especially in the colouring of the skin and in the curls of the hair, as well as incredible sophistication, especially in depicting the embroidery", stated the article.
They continue: "Radiography revealed the same faint lines as in the images of St. Anne, Mona Lisa, and St. John the Baptist, characteristic of Leonardo’s work after 1500. The number of changes made during the creation of the work also speaks in favour of its originality. The first version of the peaked central "bib" is immediately comparable to the central part of the tunic in the drawing from Windsor Castle and, as far as we know, is not found anywhere else."
The Saviour of the World before restoration. Source: Christie’s
"Besides, the movement of the thumb is the same as that of St. John. After scrutinizing other works from the Louvre collection, we discovered that a number of techniques found in The Saviour of the World are typical of Leonardo — the authenticity of the preparation, the use of frosted glass, and the striking use of cinnabar in hair and shadows. All the latter elements indicate that this is a late work by Leonardo, created after Saint John the Baptist in the second Milanese period."
But why didn’t the Saviour of the World appear at the most prestigious exhibition dedicated to the 500th anniversary of the death of its creator? The authors of The Savior For Sale documentary premièred on 13 April 2021 on French TV tried to answer this question. According to two anonymous French officials, the museum did not agree to a demand from Saudi Arabia to display the panel next to the Mona Lisa as "rock-solid Leonardo". The institution allegedly considered that the artist only "had a hand" to the image, and Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who bought the panel for $ 450 million, was offended.
The Louvre remained true to its principles and did not comment on the film. However, in a strange way, copies of their booklet on The Saviour of the World got to a number of influential media outlets, such as the New York Times.
January 23 − February 5
According to the official version, the Louvre did not want to exhibit the Saviour of the World next to the Mona Lisa, so as not to increase the crowd. Moreover, the presence of another overvalued work in the gallery would be too much of a problem for the security service.