$450M Salvator Mundi Likely Not by Leonardo, Claims Prado

November 12th, 2021

Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado in a catalogue for its exhibition “Leonardo and the Copy of the Mona Lisa” has downgraded the ca. 1500 painting Salvator Mundi, which it now casts as likely not made by the legendary Italian Renaissance artist, The Art Newspaper reports. The work’s decline in status is evinced in the book’s index, where works are listed under two headings, that of “By Leonardo” and that of “Attributed Works, Workshop or Authorized and Supervised by Leonardo,” with Salvator Mundi appearing in the latter category.

The painting’s lowered standing is further detailed in an essay in the publication by Prado curator Ana Gonzáles Mozo, who notes that “some specialists consider that there was a now lost prototype [of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi] while others think that the much debated Cook version [as the Prado painting, purchased in 1900 by London-based Francis Cook, is known]) is the original.” Mozo asserts that “there is no painted prototype” by Leonardo, instead suggesting that a 1505–15 iteration of the work, known as the Ganay version, is the closest to the artist’s lost original. That work, purchased by the marquis de Ganay in 1939, went on the block at Sotheby’s in 1999 and now resides in an anonymous private collection. Adding insult to injury, the catalogue offers full-page color reproduction of the Ganay Salvator Mundi, and no illustration at all of the Cook version.

The Cook version made headlines in 2017, when it was sold by Christie’s to Prince Badr bin Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s culture minister, for a record-setting $450.3 million. Its previous owner, Russian billionaire Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, had purchased it in 2013 for $127.5 million; Rybolovlev accused Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier of overcharging him for that work and thirty-seven others; however, a related investigation by US authorities was dropped following the record-breaking sale, in part because the Russian billionaire’s windfall could have enabled the defense to claim that he wasn’t a fraud victim, owing to the tremendous profit he wound up reaping.