It is the most expensive painting in the world, and the most invisible.
No one has ever seen Leonardo da Vinci's “Salvator Mundi” - or his students, that's the whole problem - since it was sold on November 15, 2017 at Christie's at Rockefeller Center in New York, for $ 450 million.
The tumble of the century for a small rectangle of painting of 65 by 45 centimeters, bought in 2005… 1175 dollars, or 990 euros.
At the time, it was believed to be a late copy of an anonymous painter.
Except the lynx-eyed American art dealer who found it at a local sale in Louisiana.
A passionate, hysterical, aesthetic, but also political and diplomatic story, told in the documentary "Salvator Mundi: the Stunning Affair of the Last Vinci", broadcast Tuesday, April 13, on France 5, at 8:50 pm.
The director, Antoine Vitkine, investigated for two years.
The “Salvator Mundi” (1490-1519), 65 by 45 centimeters, is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci ... or to his pupils.
VCG Wilson / Corbis via Getty Images / FTV
Business, he unraveled several.
Leonardo da Vinci drives you crazy.
This is the only point on which everyone will agree.
There are only about fifteen paintings of the genius of the Renaissance.
Is the “Salvator Mundi” really this sixteenth wonder of the world, or a very damaged work which, according to experts, comes from Leonardo's workshop but to which the master only gave a few brushstrokes, leaving to do his assistants?
The Louvre, during its great Leonardo da Vinci exhibition in 2019-2020, for the 500th anniversary of his death, tried to answer this question.
But this is where a
"Quasi-affair of State"
as the author of the film, Antoine Vitkine explains to us.
The pressure on the largest museum in the world is then very strong.
In 2011, the work was presented to the National Gallery in London, during a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, by a curator who was later lectured by his management for having believed a little too easily in its attribution.
A great scholar, Martin Kemp, referred to him as a Leonardo, but four other authorities refused to follow him, and he himself, in the documentary, admits that he may have finally been "wrong"
and criticizes the house of Christie's for having been far too affirmative in selling it as a reliable Leonardo in 2017. Too late, the painting has already started its mad rush on the art market, attracted like shoals of piranhas by the smell of paint and silver.
In the hands of rich sulphurous collectors
In 2013, the Russian oligarch and president of AS Monaco football club Dmitri Rybolovlev bought it for $ 127.5 million.
Before falling out with his trusted man and intermediary, the Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, whom he accuses of having swindled him.
First business, low noise.
The courts will agree with the Swiss, who will say that the Russian still made a nice capital gain by selling his painting four years after the purchase for $ 300 million more.
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Until then, it's a debate of experts and new rich collectors.
Everything becomes political and diplomatic when we discover that it is the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed ben Salman, the sulphurous MBS - accused of having had the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi assassinated in Istanbul in 2018 -, who acquired the painting. in Christie's record auction of $ 450 million.
In a blur that is not at all artistic: the Louvre-Abu Dhabi first announces that it owns it and is preparing to exhibit it, before the Saudi prince enters the scene with his face uncovered.
The purchaser is the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed ben Salman, known as MBS, accused of having had the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi assassinated in 2018. Divergence / Gilles Bassignac
From there, welcome to a novel by John le Carré.
In April 2018, Emmanuel Macron and MBS dined ... at the Louvre, as a prelude to the latter's official visit to France.
On the menu, huge economic contracts, especially cultural ones: Saudi Arabia wants to bring six museums out of the desert, relying on French expertise, like Abu Dhabi.
The two leaders inevitably evoke the “Salvator Mundi”, one year before the retrospective at the Louvre.
This painting, so debated, MBS wants to see it dubbed by the largest museum in the world.
Recognized as a 100% Leonardo da Vinci, and we don't talk about it anymore!
The fact of the prince.
The great maneuvers begin, told in the film by two advisers to the French government that the documentary filmmaker has managed to make speak, by disguising their voices.
In the greatest secrecy, the painting arrives in Paris to be appraised at C2RMF, the restoration workshop of the museums of France, located in the basements of the Louvre.
With a luxury of precautions, even internally, where very few people are allowed to see it.
"Salvator Mundi": where has the most expensive painting in the world gone?
Nothing will ever filter, officially, of this high-risk expertise.
The closer the exhibition approaches, the more tension rises: the Louvre is ready to welcome the painting, but with the
"Leonardo da Vinci and workshop"
while the prince does not want to hear about the word "workshop", which would ruin the price of his masterpiece and his honor.
The museum management, the government and representatives of the Saudi monarchy negotiate until the last moment.
But it is necessary to print the catalog of the exhibition: a chapter is devoted to "Salvator Mundi", but with a rather general history on this Christ "Savior of the world" which gave rise to several versions in the workshop of the master. and the painting of the time: there are about twenty.
The gag arrives which does not make anyone laugh at the museum: in case the painting comes, the Louvre is having an elegant and very complete booklet of around forty pages published on the work itself.
Finally, Christ is not there, and the release of the book is canceled.
Leonardo da Vinci, the secrets of a genius: what his handwritten notebooks reveal
Except that following a bug, the Louvre bookstore put it on sale for a few hours, and a review of The Art Newspaper, which happened to happen, bought it.
Apparently, no scoop.
The museum, anyway, did not want this Vinci on the terms of the monarch of Riyadh.
The explanation can be found in the large catalog of the exhibition, although on sale, in which the house curator diplomatically disappears behind the advice of outside experts for whom "the curls of hair and the hands" of the “Salvator Mundi” are “worthy of Leonardo”
Other parts, they say, seem surprisingly weaker.
His face, mainly, would not be worthy of it.
Crucified, this Christ.
Friday, twist: the Tribune de l'Art publishes long extracts from the Louvre phantom catalog on the “Salvator Mundi” to which it had access.
Jean-Luc Martinez, patron of the museum, and Vincent Delieuvin, the curator of the exhibition, would write there, according to this very well-informed online newspaper, that the painting is really, and completely, by Leonardo.
But that its fragility is due to its very poor state of preservation, and to old restorations with almost irreversible after-effects.
The Mona Lisa hypnotizes with her smile.
The "Salvator Mundi", this unloved, with a face shattered by time, fascinates with its increasingly unfathomable enigma.