Mikhail Kamensky, an expert and the former General Director (2007-2016) of Sotheby’s Russia and CIS about the $450m sale of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” at Christie’s
“Quite a number of people I respect have light-heartedly accepted the amazing sale of Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi as being a result of rabid propaganda and sophisticated marketing. I disagree. We do not know the painting’s price after it was completed (ca. XV century). It is fair to assume that the valuation was high. Being moved from a one grand artistic collection to another, Salvator Mundi had not lost any artistic or material value over the centuries. Then because of the ignorance of the next heir, the masterpiece was sold inconsiderately and disappeared. It resurfaced by chance at an auction under a different name, covered with layers of un-professional restoration, and as a result the painting had lost both its author and price tag.
It was impossible to presume the hidden quality of Christ’s image at the time, in 1958, when someone bought it out of professional curiosity and collector’s passion for 45 pounds at Sotheby’s as a work of an unknown pupil of Leonardo’s. The magic of sfumato was covered completely by the vulgar brushstrokes of an amateurish restorer. The brave man who bought the painting and decided to restore it switched on a mechanism of a long and painful rehabilitation. One can compare the subsequent events of the recent decades like attributes of the painting, its exhibitions, sales and resales to a persevering struggle of a cello virtuoso who had suffered a stroke. On November 15, 2017, on center stage at Rockefeller Center, that very cellist delivered his best concert ever and won the jackpot.
A couple of words on marketing. The painting was sold against the background of ongoing litigation between Dmitry Rybolovlev and Yves Bouvier. To change the media context, a set of very simple and very humane measures were undertaken. A well-known English art historian and a TV celebrity reached out to a very diverse internet audience and clearly explained Da Vinci’s masterpiece to them. A well-known cameraman shot a brilliant movie using a candid camera showing the feelings of awe, the tears and the pure emotion of the visitors standing in front of this image of Christ. Have these marketing efforts affected the buyers’ resolve to fight to the end? Undoubtedly they have.
But most of all, this marketing has had an impact on ordinary people becoming an effective example of unbiased social advertising, bringing representatives of different social groups to Christie’s exhibition as a museum hall. They were not thinking about money or ownership rights.
Nevertheless, there is something significant for the history of art and for our society in this story. A correction of the value criteria that have been distorted over the previous decades has occurred. The market, at last, has put everything in its place.
And from this point of view, I do not care if someone is questioning the authenticity of Salvator Mundi. Masterpieces of old masters should cost many times more than the most stellar modern artists. I’m definitely for Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly to be valued at tens of millions but on the condition that Leonardo da Vinci is worth half a billion. As it should be.”
Translated and edited by artdecision.eu