The last unearthed Leonardo da Vinci painting will be on display in San Francisco until Friday.
Da Vinci’s "Salvator Mundi" ("Savior of the World') — a stunning portraiture of Jesus Christ — is being exhibited at the Minnesota Street Project in the Dogpatch neighborhood until Oct. 20. This is its first public showing in the United States since it was confirmed to be a work by da Vinci, where it arrived from a showing in Hong Kong.
It may very well be, to quote a statement by Christie’s, “the greatest artistic rediscovery of the 21st century.” But its history is just as compelling.
Commissioned by Louis XII of France, it was owned by Charles I of England before his execution and transferred to the Duke of Buckingham. The Buckingham Palace was then acquired by George III in 1761, who auctioned off "Salvator Mundi" two years later before it vanished.
Upon its re-emergence after nearly two centuries, "Salvator Mundi" traded hands repeatedly by collectors who, at that point, believed it to be a work of Da Vinci’s acolytes. It was housed in a collection owned by British merchant Sir Francis Cook before it was auctioned off for £45 in 1957 — approximately $1,300 when adjusted for inflation — and vanished again. "Salvator Mundi" was then put up for auction at an American estate sale in 2005, where it was sold for a small sum to a collective of global scholars and curators from institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art and the University of Oxford.
It was a safe investment for the consortium. There were qualities in the painting that recalled the work of da Vinci, who only has 15 paintings to his name.
Alan Wintermute, an Old Masters expert at Christie’s, cites the delicately-painted hand as a hallmark of da Vinci’s works, which the original buyers recognized.
“They could see bits of the original that more or less were intact and uncovered, and they thought that it had greater merit than what other people had perhaps realized,” Wintermute said in an interview with KQED. “Whether they thought it might be good or not, a good period copy would still be worth considerably more than that.”
It wasn’t until the painting underwent a comprehensive cleaning and restoration process that "Salvator Mundi" was confirmed to be a da Vinci. "Salvator Mundi's" first public unveiling after the discovery took place in 2011 at the National Gallery in London.
After its brief stay in San Francisco, "Salvator Mundi" will trek across the Atlantic to London, where it will be on exhibition on Oct. 24 to 26. It will then finally be put on display at the Rockefeller Center in New York and auctioned off at Christie’s on Nov. 15, where it will accompany post-war and contemporary artworks in the auction by the likes of Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock.
Though estimates by Christie expect the piece to be sold for over $100 million, the verdict is still out for "Salvator Mundi’s" sale to surpass the current record set by a piece sold at auction: Picasso’s "Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”)" which sold for $179.4 million in 2015.
“When you get in the realm of things that are valued at $100 million or more, the air is thin,” Wintermute said. “Once you get to that range, none of us could begin to tell you.”