Lost Leonardo da Vinci painting discovered

There are a grand total of 14 oil paintings in the world known to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci, or rather there were 14. Now there are 15 because a Leonardo that was lost centuries ago has been authenticated by experts from the US and UK. The painting depicts Christ as the Salvator Mundi, the Savior of the World, facing forwards with two fingers of his right hand raised in blessing and a crystal globe in his left hand. It’s oil on a walnut panel and is 2 x 1.5 feet (26 x 18 inches, 66 x 45 cm) in size.

The Salvator Mundi was a well-known painting when Leonardo first made it around 1500. That’s why we still know of it despite its having dropped out of circulation for hundreds of years, because there are multiple copies made by his students and other artists in his style. Several of these copies have been put forth as the lost original, but scholars disagreed and none of them was widely accepted. There are also two preparatory drawings by Leonardo in the Royal Library at Windsor which show the drapery of Christ’s robe and raised arm just as seen in the painting.

Our best historical reference is a detailed etching made in 1650 by Wenceslaus Hollar, who was commissioned to make the copy by Henrietta Maria, Queen of England, widow of the freshly decapitated English King Charles I. Hollar captioned the etching “Leonardus da Vinci pinxit. Wenceslaus Hollar fecit Aqua forti, secundum originale. Ao 1650.” (Translation: “Leonardo da Vinci painted it. Wenceslaus Hollar made it out of strong water [ie, nitric acid used for the etching], according to the original. Year 1650.”) There’s a record of the painting in Charles I’s collection in 1649, so it seems Hollar made his drawing from Leonardo’s completed original.

It was sold after the King’s execution but returned to the crown when he son, Charles II, was restored to the monarchy in 1660. From there it went into the Duke of Buckingham’s collection and then dropped out of sight after his son sold it in 1763. The painting cropped up again in 1900 but was very much the worse for wear. It had been overpainted, varnished, poorly restored and damaged past the point of recognition. You can see the repainting in the black and white picture (right) taken after 1900 but before 1912.

When British collector Sir Frederick Cook purchased it that year, he didn’t know it was a Leonardo. It was exhibited as a “Milanese School” painting from ca. 1500 when Sir Frederick put his collection of old masters on display in the 40s. It was attributed to Leonardo’s talented student Boltraffio when the trustees of the Cook collection put the painting up for auction at Sotheby’s London in 1958 after Sir Frederick’s death. It earned them 45 shiny pounds. (You know they are collectively beating themselves in the face right about now.)

Salvator Mundi was in an American private collection from that point until 2005, when it was purchased from what appears to be a consortium of art dealers, but the owners are keeping fairly mum about it. They commissioned New York art historian and dealer Robert Simon to study the piece and he saw through the repaint, dirt, varnish and tragic cleanings past to the details of Leonardo-level quality like the pattern of the stole and the bubbles in the crystal orb.

They still didn’t think it was an actual Leonardo original at that point. It was only after years of cleaning and restoration that the full beauty of the painting gradually revealed itself. In the fall of 2007, they called in the big Leonardo guns.

At that time, the painting was viewed by Mina Gregori (University of Florence) and Nicholas Penny (Director, National Gallery, London; then Curator of Sculpture, National Gallery of Art, Washington). In 2008, the painting was studied at The Metropolitan Museum of Art by museum curators Carmen Bambach, Andrea Bayer, Keith Christiansen, and Everett Fahy, and by Michael Gallagher, head of the Department of Paintings Conservation. In late May 2008, the painting was taken to the National Gallery in London, where it could be directly compared with Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks of approximately the same date. Several specialist Leonardo scholars were also invited to study the two paintings together. These included Carmen Bambach, David Alan Brown (Curator of Italian Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington), Maria Teresa Fiorio (Raccolta Vinciana, Milan), Martin Kemp (University of Oxford), Pietro C. Marani (Professor of Art History at the Politecnico di Milano), and the gallery’s Curator of Italian paintings Luke Syson. More recently, following the completion of conservation treatment in 2010, the painting has again been studied in New York by several of the above, as well as by David Ekserdjian (University of Leicester).

The study and examination of the painting by these scholars resulted in an unequivocal consensus that the Salvator Mundi was painted by Leonardo da Vinci, and that it is the single original painting from which the many copies and versions depend. Individual opinions vary slightly in the matter of dating. Most place the painting at the end of Leonardo’s Milanese period in the late 1490s, contemporary with the completion of the Last Supper. Others believe it to be slightly later, painted in Florence (where Leonardo moved in 1500), contemporary with the Mona Lisa.

The experts were convinced this was the real Salvator Mundi because of its stylistic adherence to Leonardo’s known work, the high quality execution, its matching the Windsor preparatory drawings and Hollar’s etching, how much better it is than the 20 known copies, plus the discovery of pentimenti, first ideas for the work that were painted over but not seen in the etching or in the copies. The science — chemical analysis of the paint, colors and wood — confirms that the materials are consistent with those used in other works known to be Leonardo’s.

They were so decisively persuaded, in fact, that Salvator Mundi will be shown for the first time at London’s National Gallery Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan show, an unprecedented exhibition of work from Leonardo’s years at the court of Ludovico Sforza, ruler of Milan. Seven of the now 15 known Leonardo paintings will be on display in this show. To say that is unprecedented is an understatement. That’s half of all the remaining Leonardos in one place, one of them the first new Leonardo painting found since 1909, when the Benois Madonna was discovered.


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Comment by Edward Goldberg
2011-07-09 04:35:11

“To say that is unprecedented is an understatement” pretty well sums it up! Oh, the astonishment of a newly discovered Leonardo (or Michelangelo, or Raphael, or Caravaggio) that really is what it is purported to be!!! And now, the “Salvator Mundi” is helping us understand various related works, especially by Milanese follwers of Leonardo.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-07-09 14:07:09

I could hardly believe it myself. I first read about this story over a week ago, but there was nothing about the new Leonardo on the National Gallery website and no picture of it besides the black and white, and of course that one looks completely weird.

I’ve written stories about would-be rediscovered old masters before, and many of those great expectations turned out to be very feebly grounded indeed. It wasn’t until the owners published their press release with details about the restoration and authentication that I was willing to take the plunge again.

Comment by gwen reed
2011-07-09 19:37:48

Most comprehensive and factual post to date about the “Simon” da Vinci. I think there are a few more mysteries yet… something Very Curious about that 1912 photo.. I believe it is a photo of the ruined de Ganay “da Vinci” and is the handiwork of some hacks…careless nuns.

Comment by Rowan
2011-07-10 17:28:39

The image is simply breathtaking. Thank you for the enlarged version.

I would love to be able to afford to go to London to see the exhibit. Gah! So many da Vinci’s in one place and I am on the wrong side of the pond.

Comment by Dean
2011-07-12 10:21:46

It doesn’t look right to me. The face is strange with the right eye higher–drawing mistake Leonardo isn’t known for. Maybe it was over cleaned.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-07-12 14:36:14

I think the whole eye area shows the effects of overpainting. If you look on the black and white picture, you can see that by the early 20th century the eyes were larger, rounder, buggier. Those alterations were removed, but they left Christ with a serious case of pinkeye.

Comment by bms
2011-07-14 08:47:28

to whom belongs the photo of the painting Salvator Mundi which is publishing in this article? we are interesting in using this photo for commercial use.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-07-14 13:02:28

The consortium who owns the painting released the picture. I’ve emailed you the contact information.

Comment by LadyShea
2011-07-20 16:51:39

Yeah yeah great find and all, but I think the painting is hideous.

Comment by André Durand
2011-07-30 12:17:32

This is a ravishing image-an expression in the eyes of absolute love.

What jewels are the two gem stones? Pearl? Ruby?

The tree stars:
Orion’s Belt or The Belt of Orion is an aster-ism in the constellation Orion. It consists of the three bright stars:
ζ Ori (Alnitak), ε Ori (Alnilam), and δ Ori (Mintaka).
The same three stars are known in Provence, Southern Italy, and Latin America as “The Three Marys”

They also mark the northern night sky when the sun is at its lowest point, and were a clear marker for ancient timekeeping.

André Durand

Comment by livius drusus
2011-07-30 12:57:02

I had no idea about the three stars in the crystal orb. Thank you very much for enlightening me.

I’m afraid I don’t know what the gemstones are. Even the most detailed sources don’t describe them.

Comment by hernan
2011-09-26 08:51:18

Como dice Dean, la cara no es simétrica. Ello sería un error impensable en Leonardo. Pero precisamente este detalle confirma la autoría, ya que, como ha dicho Caso de los Cobos, se trata de una imagen andrógina de Cristo, su lado derecho es masculino, el izquierdo femenino. Ello se observa en algunas representaciones helenísticas y medievales.
La esfera, en este caso, no representa a la tierra (cuya esfericidad era conocida en la época), sino la esfera de las estrellas fijas, límite del cosmos visible.

Comment by PIno
2011-11-02 09:25:00

As much as I want to believe is a Leonardo…it looks very much as Bernardo Luino for me, his ” Last Supper” is in Lugano, St Maria degli Angioli….but hey ..lets leave it to the expert …Looking forward the exhibiton in London…

Comment by livius drusus
2011-11-06 03:30:03

It’s probably not really possible to assess just by looking at a picture. If you do have a chance to visit the exhibition, I hope you’ll report your impressions.

Comment by luigi
2011-11-07 20:33:19

I agree, it seems to me the eyes are not of the quality of a DaVinci. Makes you think about the so-called experts. I would love to believe that it’s a Leonardo, but it doesn’t look right

Comment by livius drusus
2011-11-07 23:42:37

Again, the eyes were heavily overpainted. As much as possible was removed by conservators, but there are still remnants that make things look weird. Besides, everyone’s an expert from the comfort of their own couch. ;)

Comment by john geisler
2011-11-08 07:47:03


Comment by ahasuerus
2011-12-21 03:06:12

The left hand holding the globe looks poorly executed and surely Leonardo, the proto-scientist, would not have made such an elementary mistake as to paint the image of the hand and robe seen through the globe incorrectly. These have been painted with virtually no, or at best a very shallow, lens effect rather than as through a sphere.

2011-12-22 22:11:53

This is very troubling; when people who restore cannot understand the “intent” of the artist in this case it is the artist/master Leonardo, da Vinci, http://michaelmwd.blogspot.com/
Intent; as in Leonardo, da Vinci the act of turning the mind toward an object; hence, a design; a purpose; intention; meaning; drift; aim.

A comparison of the preparatory drawings of the raised hands in both paintings shows them to be identical. The extreme accuracy and detail indicate to us that the hands were drawn by da Vinci. A detailed analysis of the Blue painting reveals off-sets in the symmetry and scale. These anomalies were introduced into the original work by the student who completed the painting and by the recent restoration artist.

In the original, (the red and blue) note the the roundness of the thumb and arch on the side coming down from the top to the inside of the crease of the next knuckle. Also make note of the “S” in the on the cuff of the wrist. This was created in very old in block form which is consistent with the fonts of the era in which the painting was created.

Notice in the blue painting the top of the thumb has a more squared off character. The arch of the thumb from the top to the inside of the next crease of the knuckle is missing. These omissions are very obvious to anyone looking at the painting carefully. These issues should have been noted and corrected, if not by the original artist, then by the restoration artist. The S in the area of the cuff of the wrist is a modern font and not consistent with the fonts of the middle ages. These errors are clear and obvious, and Leonardo would not have allowed such errors to persist in his own works….. He was far to exacting to allow such oversights to remain uncorrected.

Our conclusion that the red and Blue painting is the authentic Leonardo painting, while the Blue painting is not that of da Vinci but by another artist , likely a student, is clearly supported by the just the observations of the prominent errors remaining in the artwork. This evidence stands alone and is enough to convince us. When combined with the additional mathematical, geometric and style evidence covered elsewhere, it is difficult to come to any other conclusion.

We are hoping that the scholars and historians who are presently constrained by traditional methods of authentication will come to understand the new discoveries made by The da Vinci Project Research Group, and accept and use our research as added criteria by which to authenticate the works of Leonardo and other renaissance artists.

Comment by Sahar
2012-01-05 05:54:26


Comment by nevso
2012-02-07 00:40:10

For a detailed discussion of why the Salvator mundi painting could not be attributed to da Vinci, see


Comment by nevso
2012-02-10 00:18:59

There are continuing assumptions and misplaced facts regarding this “so-called” da Vinci. Many readers (and the Consortium trying to sell it for almost $200Million) are relying on “experts” who say it is genuine with no argument whatsoever.
Read this BLOG before you make up your mind.

“Another daVinci?”

Comment by Anonymous
2012-05-15 13:59:26

i love this :love:

Comment by Ian martin
2014-02-21 14:56:20

Has the Salvator Mundi painting been released as a reproduction. I would love to be able to buy a copy. It shows Jesus as he really must have been – one of the most transcendent humans in history. The grace and love shown in this work are absolutely astounding and merely looking at it makes one realize the enormous potential we current human beings have in the evolution of consciousness. Having it in my sight would remind me every moment of everyday of just how important it is in our modern and post modern society to work constantly at achieving the transcendence of Jesus. How else will we ever escape the traps of our egos than by constantly knowing there is something so much more meaningful ahead of us-right now.

Comment by Michael W. Domoretsky
2014-02-21 19:48:52


Michael W. Domoretsky

Comment by nevso
2014-02-21 19:52:42

The issue on the history blog is not how transcendent the painting of Salvator Mundi is but WHO painted it.
It was not Leonardo da Vinci.
see http://culturaldecipherment.blogspot.com.au

Comment by nevso
2014-02-21 20:17:51

There are numerous troublesome anomalies which annul acceptability of this “Salvator mundi” as a genuine work by Leonardo da Vinci. Here are some of them which do not occur in any of his indubitable paintings:
● Firstly there is the hieratic frontal pose, which seems contrived and artificial by contrast with the poise and latent dynamism of Leonardo’s authentic figures.
● The disproportionate facial dimensions and daunting frontal stance are similarly disturbing, giving the figure an archaic remoteness which detracts from acceptance of the intrinsic humanity of Jesus.
● The lavish locks of tightly-coiled hair, though widely used to designate biblical figures, are likewise distracting, for they belie both the mild and gentle Christ and his known congenial demeanour (and hair-style) in “The Last Supper.”
● Lack of definition in the face renders it effectively expressionless—an effect not mitigated by claims of Leonardo’s alleged limitation of the painting’s depth of field, not evident in any of his surviving paintings.
● The argument that only a man of science would have known enough to simulate the optical distortion caused by refractive effects might seem plausible—until we all recall having seen the phenomenon in lucid streams or tumblers of water, and realise that what an artist can see, he or she can depict.
● Perhaps we have all crossed fingers when telling a white lie or as part of a playground game, but certainly not as part of conferring a blessing. So the compound gesture might best be explained as a money-making ploy designed to promote sales of the many paintings combining both pagan and Christian benefits.
● As a result, awkwardly unnatural ensuing configuration of the hand makes it anatomically impossible for a normal human hand to replicate the gesture.
● Neither of these oddities and the pagan–Christian incongruity involved can be traced to Leonardo’s professional practice.
● The very thought of Leonardo’s having engaged in mass-production of populist images appealing to the taste of the peasantry is altogether ludicrous; particularly since with a solitary exception he so avoided painting images of the adult Jesus.
● That is especially the case considering that this Jesus bears no physical resemblance to Leonardo’s, being perceptibly at several removes from his conception.
● It would not be adequate to respond by referring to the list of anonymous claims by numerous unidentified “scholars,” as already encountered. What is required to unravel such complex issues is rigorously sustained and objectively wide-ranging investigation and analysis.

Comment by Erik Nyström
2014-04-17 05:18:33

I agree, not a Leonardi painting! Leonardi was a scientist, he would have known about the lense effect of the globe. Leonardi could not have made such a misstake!

Comment by Joel Webb
2014-11-28 15:24:15

There is no doubt that Leonardo drew the Salvator Mundi, the black and white. Salvator Mundi is one of 3 pictures, it is the mirror view to the Mona Lisa and John the Baptist is a third with these. What you find in the left hand of Jesus is what you find in the left hand of Mona, and what you find in the right hand of Jesus, you find in the right hand of Mona. Da Vinci is always displaying what we are, and how we can crossover from the left hand, to the right hand. The left eye and left hand is given to a male because it represents Adam, and the serpent is in the right eye with the woman. All Da Vinci’s are this way……In the garment of the right hand of Jesus, you will find a snake who is swallowing his tail{immortality}, and you will find this same snake in the right hand and garment of Mona Lisa, but the snake is not permitted to eat it’s tail, there is an eagle there preventing it. The eagle is clear and easy to find when you know it’s there, and why it’s there. The Mona Lisa is chuck full of unseen works, and so is Salvator,what is inside the crystal ball? If you know what has to be there, you will find it easily, inside that crystal ball is the greatest optical illusion I have ever seen.

Comment by Michael W. Domoretsky
2014-11-28 17:08:32

Leonardo da Vinci did not paint the Blue painting, it was painted by a student! The true painting was done in RED AND BLUE paint!
Michael W. Domoretsky

Comment by Anonymous
2015-02-13 17:36:37

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Comment by popee
2015-04-16 13:23:20

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Comment by kedamono
2015-04-16 13:24:12

popee, stop :no:

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