Art History Lab

Untangling the Mystery of Salvator Mundi: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Enigmatic Artwork

The Renaissance era brought forth a multitude of artistic brilliance, one of which is Leonardo da Vinci. Hailing from Tuscany and trained by Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence, he was destined to leave an indelible mark on human history.

This article aims to provide readers a comprehensive overview of the background, training, and works of Leonardo da Vinci. Moreover, it also provides essential knowledge on the socio-historical context of the artwork Salvator Mundi, its commission, ownership, provenance, and restoration.

Leonardo’s Background and Training

Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in a small town named Vinci, near Florence. At an early age, he displayed exceptional artistic talent, which prompted him to be apprenticed by Verrocchio at the age of fourteen.

He worked with Verrocchio for seven years and mastered various artistic disciplines such as painting, sculpture, and metalworking. Leonardo also showed a keen interest in scientific and mathematical subjects, which enabled him to apply his knowledge in his artworks.

Leonardo’s career took off when he moved to Milan in 1482 to work for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. It was during this period that he created notable works such as The Last Supper and the Vitruvian Man.

The Last Supper is a fresco painting that depicts Jesus’ last dinner with his apostles and showcases Leonardo’s mastery of color, light, and perspective. On the other hand, the Vitruvian Man is a tribute to Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio.

It features a male figure in two positions with his arms and legs outstretched, which illustrates the harmony between man and nature. Another iconic artwork that Leonardo created was the Mona Lisa, which he worked on from 1503 until his death in 1519.

This painting is a testament to Leonardo’s polymathic genius, incorporating scientific and artistic techniques in a single artwork. The Mona Lisa is also renowned for the enigmatic smile of the subject, which has captivated viewers for centuries.

Contextual Analysis: A Brief Socio-Historical Overview

One of the most controversial and expensive artworks of the modern era is Salvator Mundi, which depicts a serene-looking Christ holding a crystal orb. This artwork was believed to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the early 16th century.

It was commissioned by King Louis XII of France for his consort, Anne of Brittany, to commemorate the birth of their son. Its provenance is a subject of debate and has been owned by various notable personalities throughout its history.

In 2017, Salvator Mundi was sold for $450 million at a Christie’s auction, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold at an auction. Before this sale, the artwork underwent rigorous restoration by Dianne Dwyer Modestini, a renowned conservator.

The restoration process unveiled the artwork’s beauty, which was previously obscured by dirt and multiple attempts at restoration by previous owners. The provenance of Salvator Mundi also indicates its rich history.

It was once owned by Queen Henrietta Maria of England, the widow of King Charles I, who gifted it to her friend, the Duke of Buckingham. After the Duke’s assassination, the artwork was then sold to the collector Sir Francis Cook and stayed in his family’s possession until it was sold at the 1958 Sotheby’s auction.

The artwork was then lost until it resurfaced in the 2000s and was acquired by various art dealers before its final sale at Christie’s.


In conclusion, Leonardo da Vinci’s artistry and contribution to human history are immeasurable. His fusion of science and art remains a cornerstone of modern creativity and innovation.

Moreover, the socio-historical context of artworks such as Salvator Mundi provides a glimpse into the past and how artworks’ provenance can impact their value and contribution to society. Leonardo’s legacy and Salvator Mundi’s mystery continue to fascinate art enthusiasts and scholars worldwide, making their discovery and study a never-ending pursuit of knowledge and aesthetics.

Salvator Mundi might be one of the most enigmatic and mystifying artworks in history. Its provenance, restoration, value, and ownership remain a subject of debate and fascination.

In this expansion, we will delve into the current whereabouts of the artwork and the controversies surrounding it. Where Exactly is the Salvator Mundi Painting Now?

Since its sale at the Christie’s auction in 2017, Salvator Mundi has changed hands numerous times, making its current location a subject of debate. The artwork was previously owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who bought it in 2013 for $127.5 million from Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier.

The sale sparked a legal battle between the two magnates, with Rybolovlev accusing Bouvier of inflating the artwork’s price. The case was eventually dismissed in 2018 by a Monaco judge.

After the legal battle, Rybolovlev sold Salvator Mundi in a private sale to a mysterious Saudi Arabian buyer allegedly linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for a staggering $450 million in 2019. However, the identity of the buyer has remained a secret, and the artwork’s current location remains unknown.

Debates and Disputes

The secrecy surrounding the ownership and location of Salvator Mundi has sparked debates and disputes, with some alleging that the artwork is in the possession of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. However, the kingdom’s authorities have not confirmed nor denied the purchase.

Moreover, the artwork’s authenticity as a Leonardo da Vinci original has been a subject of debate. In 2017, the Abu Dhabi Department of Tourism and Culture, which owns the Louvre Abu Dhabi, announced that Salvator Mundi would be exhibited in the museum.

However, the artwork never made its way to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and no updates were provided by the authorities. Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that Salvator Mundi is being kept aboard the superyacht Serene owned by Prince Badr bin Abdullah, a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family.

However, the authorities have not confirmed this claim, leaving the Salvator Mundi’s current location a mystery.

Salvator Mundi in the Media

The mystery surrounding Salvator Mundi’s ownership and location has caught the attention of filmmakers and documentarians worldwide. Two documentary films shed light on the saga that surrounds the artwork.

The Savior for Sale is a French-made documentary directed by Antoine Vitkine that follows the legal battle between Rybolovlev and Bouvier and the history and authenticity of the artwork. The film presents the viewpoints of art experts, dealers, and legal experts on the controversy surrounding the artwork.

Another documentary film that tackles the Salvator Mundi saga is The Lost Leonardo, directed by Andreas Koefoed. The film investigates the artwork’s authenticity, ownership, and provenance, uncovering the complexities and power play in the art world.


Salvator Mundi remains a subject of speculation, with its provenance, ownership, and value shrouded in secrecy and fascination. The current whereabouts of the artwork remain a mystery, leaving art enthusiasts and scholars to wonder about its future location and impact.

The fact that its authenticity as a Leonardo da Vinci original is still debatable adds to its enigma and intrigue. The two documentary films on Salvator Mundi emphasize its significance in contemporary art history and its undeniable allure as a masterpiece.

Salvator Mundi is one of the most debated and mysterious artworks in history, with its provenance, ownership, and authenticity remaining a subject of fascination and speculation. In this expansion, we will explore the artwork’s compositional elements, historical and scientific analysis, unanswered questions, and interpretations.

Formal Analysis: A Brief Compositional Overview

Salvator Mundi depicts a frontal portrait of Jesus Christ holding an orb with his right hand and giving his blessing with his left. He wears a blue robe with gold trimmings and a veil that drapes over his left shoulder, framing his face.

The artwork’s composition is simple yet sophisticated, with the subject occupying most of the space in the painting. His gaze is directed towards the viewer, seemingly engaging in a silent conversation.

Elements of Art: Color, Texture, Line, Shape, Form, Space

Salvator Mundi’s color palette features rich pigments such as lapis lazuli, vermilion, and lead-tin yellow, which represent the status and holiness of the subject. The shading and highlights create a sense of depth and three-dimensionality, and the vertical lines on the orb add to its realism.

The organic shapes of the drapery and face contrast with the symmetrical shape of the orb, adding a sense of movement to the artwork. The composition’s use of negative space creates a sense of silence and contemplation.

Salvator Mundi: Untangling an Art Mystery

Historical and Scientific Analysis

Salvator Mundi’s origin and authenticity remain a subject of debate among art experts, dealers, and collectors. The artwork’s provenance can be traced back to King Louis XII of France and his consort, Anne of Brittany, who commissioned it to commemorate the birth of their son.

However, the artwork’s authenticity as a Leonardo da Vinci original has been disputed. Art historians such as Martin Kemp and Marco Liang believe that the artwork was created by Leonardo but underwent multiple restoration attempts, adding layers of paint and obscuring its original beauty.

On the other hand, Michael T. Goodrich and Shuang Zhao used scientific methods to analyze the artwork and concluded that it was not created entirely by Leonardo da Vinci and was the result of a collaboration between the master and his workshop.

Unanswered Questions and Interpretations

The mystery surrounding Salvator Mundi’s authenticity and da Vinci’s involvement raises unanswered questions that fuel further interpretations. The inconsistencies in the artwork’s restoration, the lack of solid documentation, and the secretive nature of its ownership have led some to question the artwork’s truth.

The artwork’s artistic style has also been a subject of interpretation, with some noting the similarities between Salvator Mundi and da Vinci’s other works, while others point out its deviation from the master’s style.


Salvator Mundi’s significance in contemporary art history is undeniable, with its mystique and controversies raising questions and interpretations that add to its allure. Its formal analysis provides a glimpse into the artwork’s compositional elements, while the historical and scientific analysis and unanswered questions reveal the artwork’s complexities and intrigue.

The mystery surrounding Salvator Mundi invites further investigation and interpretation, making it a never-ending quest for truth and beauty. Salvator Mundi, the mysterious and controversial artwork attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, continues to captivate the art world with its unknown location, disputed authenticity, and complex history.

Through a formal analysis, we explored the artwork’s compositional elements and its enigmatic subject matter. Historical and scientific analysis uncovered the debates surrounding its origin while leaving unanswered questions and room for interpretation.

The importance of investigating and appreciating artworks like Salvator Mundi lies in the exploration of art’s complexity and beauty that transcends time. As the art world strives to untangle the art mystery surrounding Salvator Mundi, we are reminded of the power and enduring impact of art on our collective imagination.

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