Art History Lab

The Mysterious Salvator Mundi: Art’s Ultimate Savior or Betrayer?

The Mysterious Salvator Mundi: The Ultimate Savior of Art? In the world of art, few works are as contentious and fraught with debate as the Salvator Mundi.

Is it the work of Leonardo da Vinci? What is its significance, and what is the controversy surrounding it?

These are just a few of the questions that have circulated among scholars for centuries.

Significance and Controversy of the Salvator Mundi

The Salvator Mundi is a contentious painting that has been doubted and debated by scholars for years. At the heart of the controversy is the attribution of the artwork to Leonardo da Vinci.

Critics have scrutinized the painting for years, with some stating there are significant discrepancies in the work that make it unlikely to have been crafted by the renowned master. Despite the doubts and the controversy, the Salvator Mundi remains an important work of art.

The painting portrays Jesus in a serene and majestic pose, gazing off into the distance while holding a crystal orb that represents the globe. This portrayal is symbolic, as Jesus is often referred to as the “Savior of the World.”

Description and Symbolism of the Salvator Mundi

The Salvator Mundi is one of the few paintings that portray Jesus as the ultimate savior of the world. The painting depicts Jesus’ face in a calm and collected manner, with his hair parted in the middle and flowing over his shoulders.

His right hand is raised in blessing while his left hand holds a crystal orb representing the earth. This pose is symbolic, as it shows Jesus as powerful and imposing.

The orb in Jesus’ hand is also symbolic. The crystal orb represents the world and serves as a reminder that Christ is the savior of all mankind.

The pose and the symbolism of the painting make it a work of extraordinary religious and cultural significance.

Potential Commissioners and Sponsors

The origin of the Salvator Mundi is still not known with certainty. However, it is believed that the painting was commissioned by one of the most powerful women in Renaissance Italy, Isabella d’Este, Duchess of Milan.

Isabella was a patron of the arts and was known for her love of beautiful and intricate artworks. Other potential commissioners of the painting include King Louis XII of France.

Louis was a great collector of art and was known to have commissioned several works from the greatest artists of his time, including da Vinci.

Iconography and Influences

The Salvator Mundi is thought to be influenced by Byzantine art, which was prevalent during da Vinci’s time. Byzantine art was characterized by a stiff and formal pose, with Jesus gazing directly at the viewer while blessing them with his right hand.

The painting also drew inspiration from the acheiropoietic tradition, which refers to images of Christ that are believed to have been miraculously created without human intervention. Such images were deemed especially sacred and were often used in religious rituals.


In the end, the Salvator Mundi’s origin and authenticity have been debated for centuries, with doubts still lingering around the attribution of the work to da Vinci. Nonetheless, the painting remains a symbol of great religious and cultural significance, as well as a notable and intriguing art mystery.

The Mysterious Salvator Mundi: The Ultimate Savior of Art? Reproductions and Modifications by da Vinci’s Students and Admirers

Da Vinci’s students and admirers were deeply influenced by his works, including the Salvator Mundi.

Many of them made copies and modifications of the painting, as was common practice in Renaissance art. These copies and modifications were sold to notable collectors and patrons of art, further spreading the painting’s influence and increasing its reputation as an important piece of art.

One such notable copy was commissioned by Luigi Codeb. The copy is thought to have been created by artist Bernardino Luini, one of da Vinci’s most talented students.

The Codeb copy is strikingly similar to the original Salvator Mundi, with only minor differences in the background and lighting.

Attribution and Restoration Efforts

The authenticity of the Salvator Mundi has been a subject of controversy for centuries. The painting has undergone numerous restorations and interventions, with many experts concerned that these efforts have significantly altered the painting’s original appearance.

However, recent restoration work led by Dianne Dwyer Modestini at the NYU Institute of Fine Arts revealed the painting’s original form, leading to renewed debate over its authenticity. Infrared pictures of the painting helped to identify a pentimento, or correction, in the image’s right thumb.

This pentimento matched a similar correction present in da Vinci’s St. Jerome, providing further evidence to support the painting’s attribution to the great master himself. However, many experts remain skeptical, still questioning the attribution and da Vinci’s workshop involvement.

One of the most debated elements of the painting concerns the positioning of the left hand. Many experts argue that the hand appears awkwardly arranged and unnatural, leading them to question its authenticity.

Similarly, some critics have raised questions over the eyes. They argue that the eyes do not have the same level of detail as other areas of the painting, sparking concerns that they might be the work of an assistant or inferior artist.

Media Attention and Public Interest

The Salvator Mundi reached unprecedented levels of fame in 2017 when it sold for a remarkable $450 million at auction, making it the most expensive painting ever sold. This auction turned the painting into an internet sensation, with memes and commentary appearing across social media platforms.

The sale also brought an influx of spectators to galleries and museums across the world, further fuelling the public interest in the Salvator Mundi.

Expert Opinions and Doubts on Attribution

Despite the excitement surrounding the Salvator Mundi auction, many experts remain cautious about the painting’s attribution. They question the involvement of da Vinci’s workshop and suggest that the painting may be the work of da Vinci’s student Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio or a subsequent copyist.

The doubts are further fuelled by the positioning of the left hand and the eyes, which experts argue suggest the involvement of an inferior artist. However, supporters of the painting’s attribution to da Vinci argue that the Salvator Mundi demonstrates extraordinary technical and artistic skill, characteristics that are consistent with da Vinci’s known works.

They also point to the similarity between the pentimento in the Salvator Mundi and that in St. Jerome as further evidence of da Vinci’s authorship.


The Salvator Mundi painting continues to captivate the art world, with debate over its authenticity and attribution piquing the interest of scholars, collectors, and the public. Despite the controversies surrounding the painting, the Salvator Mundi remains an important work of art, symbolizing the intersection of religious and cultural significance with the beauty and mystery of painting.

The Mysterious Salvator Mundi: The Ultimate Savior of Art?

Adaptations and Documentaries

The Salvator Mundi has captured the imagination of not just the art world but also popular culture. In 2019, a Broadway musical titled “The Savior” was announced, based on the story of the painting’s discovery and controversy.

The musical was planned to premiere in November 2020 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The painting has also been the subject of several documentaries, exploring its history and significance in the art world.

In 2019, a feature-length documentary titled “The Lost Leonardo” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, chronicling the painting’s discovery and journey. The film sparked renewed interest in the painting’s provenance and origins, leading to further critical reviews and debates.

Ongoing Debate and Interest in the Painting

The Salvator Mundi remains a subject of controversy and ongoing debate in the art world. While some experts argue for the painting’s attribution to da Vinci, others remain skeptical, pointing to questions over its workshop involvement and the positioning of the hands and eyes.

Despite the ongoing debate, the painting continues to hold interest for art aficionados and the general public alike. Its extraordinary artistic skill and symbolism make it a subject of fascination and mystery, with new revelations and controversies arising regularly.

The painting’s provenance has also been a topic of interest. The Salvator Mundi disappeared for centuries before resurfacing in 1958.

Since then, its journey to the public eye has been shrouded in mystery, further fueling the intrigue surrounding the painting. Critics and experts have also offered their opinions on the painting, with some praising its beauty and technical skill while others remain unconvinced of its authenticity.

The disagreements and ongoing debates over the painting continue to make the Salvator Mundi an enigmatic and captivating work of art.


The Salvator Mundi has become a cultural sensation, captivating not only the art world but also popular culture. Adaptations and documentaries based on the painting’s story have captured the public’s imagination, sparking renewed interest and debates over its authenticity and origins.

The painting’s symbolism and skill continue to make it a subject of fascination and mystique, with ongoing critical reviews and controversies for centuries to come. In conclusion, the story of the Salvator Mundi painting is one of the most enigmatic and debated topics in the art world.

Despite the controversies surrounding the painting’s authenticity and attribution, it remains an important work of art that symbolizes the intersection of religious and cultural significance with the mystery of painting. The painting has also captured the imagination of popular culture, with adaptations, documentaries, and continued debates ensuring its place in history as one of the most captivating and mysterious works of art.

While the debate may continue, the significance and influence of the Salvator Mundi are undeniable, leaving a lasting impact on the art world and beyond.

Popular Posts