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The auction house insists that there is a broad scholarly consensus that the record-breaking artwork be attributed to Leonardo

Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi (detail), c.1500, oil on walnut, 66 x 45 cm. Courtesy: Christie’s, London / New York

Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi (detail), c.1500, oil on walnut, 66 x 45 cm. Courtesy: Christie’s, London / New York

Auction house Christie’s has refuted an Oxford art historian’s claim that the Salvator Mundi was largely painted by Leonardo da Vinci’s assistant. Christie’s said that there was a ‘broad consensus’ among academic opinion that the Salvator Mundi be attributed to Leonardo. The painting, which depicts Jesus carrying a crystal orb, sold for a record-breaking USD$450 million at Christie’s, New York, last year.

Matthew Landrus, a research fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford, and a Leonardo scholar, has disputed the auction house’s claim that the Salvator Mundi is ‘one of fewer than 20 known paintings by Leonardo’. Instead, Landrus says that it was largely the work of Leonardo’s talented assistant Bernardino Luini. Elements in the drapery and modelling of the face, Landrus said, bore significant similarities with Luini’s own work Christ among the Doctors (1515–30).

A Christie’s spokesperson rejected the claims, telling the Antiques Trade Gazette: ‘The attribution to Leonardo was established almost 10 years prior to sale by a panel of a dozen scholars, and was reconfirmed at the time of the auction in 2017.’ Meanwhile another Oxford academic and Leonardo expert Martin Kemp has said that he will reveal ‘a conclusive body of evidence that the Salvator Mundi is a masterpiece by Leonardo,’ in a book to be published next year.

Alongside the painting’s attribution disputes, the identity of the Salvator Mundi’s buyer has fuelled significant speculation. An initial Wall Street Journal report pointed to Saudi Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud as the buyer, working as a proxy on behalf of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi authorities said that the prince was actually buying it on behalf of the UAE’s Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, where it will go on show later this year. Wilder theories have suggested that the painting’s record-breaking sum was the result of an accidental bidding war between Saudi and UAE authorities, each thinking the other was rival Qatar.