The Louvre’s much-anticipated Leonardo Da Vinci blockbuster exhibition opened last week, marking the 500-year anniversary of the death of the artist in France. The exhibition and the anniversary are of special importance to the museum, as it holds the largest ever collection of da Vinci paintings and drawings. One notably absent work remained: the Salvator Mundi.
The $450m work was not included in the exhibition, but a closer look at the exhibition catalogue reveals that the missing painting was in fact close to making it on to the walls of the gallery. A missing catalogue entry between Cat 156 and Cat 158 and a Louvre spokesperson told the Art Newspaper that two versions of the catalogue were produced as discussions around the painting’s inclusion were happening. One catalogue in case the picture arrives, and one if it does not.
The reason behind the uncertainty is yet unknown but it looks like the logistics behind the show appear to have been in place for the painting to arrive in Paris. A last minute occurrence in the final weeks proceeding to the show’s preview made it’s inclusion less likely, however. The Art Newspaper reported that on 18 October, as the advance preview of the show was underway, an amendment was made to the French government’s decree altering the loans to the exhibition. The amendment anticipated the possible loan of Salvator Mundi, from 20 October to 31 December, suggesting that the Louvre is prepared to show the work even if it arrives halfway through the exhibition’s run. The amendment guaranteed €800m for transport of works and the length of their stay on site during those dates but the amount is almost halved “if the loan of the Salvator Mundi, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, is confirmed before the 1st of January 2020″. The amount is then further reduced to €275m, “if this loan is not confirmed”.
While this raises a few questions, the biggest one looms behind the wording of the decree and the use of the word “attribute” in describing the controversial painting. The museum appears to describe Salvator Mundi as “attributed” to da Vinci rather than defending it as an autograph work. Attributing a work to an artist typically suggests that the attribution has not been confirmed by an expert consensus.
The Louvre in Paris is commemorating the death of da Vinci by gathering as many of his paintings as possible around the five main works in their collection: The Virgin of the Rocks, La Belle Ferronnière, the Mona Lisa, the Saint John the Baptist, and the Saint Anne. The objective is to display them alongside a wide range of drawings and a small but significant series of paintings and sculptures from the master’s circle.
An exhibition date for the Salvator Mundi of 18 September 2018 display was announced by the UAE museum last year, but the painting mysteriously never appeared, causing mass speculation regarding its authenticity. Public uncertainty looms with regards to its whereabouts and conditions but it now appears that the uncertainty extends to the Louvre in Paris, as well.