A chance to see the masterpiece that once sold for £45
Sunday 06 November 2011
Valued at £126m and billed as one of the most controversial art finds of the century, Salvator Mundi will be unveiled this week at the National Gallery.
The painting takes centre stage at the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition nearly 60 years after being dismissed as a minor work and sold for £45. But for a quirk of history, the picture of Christ blessing the world could be owned by Samantha Cameron and hanging in Downing Street.
It was her ancestor, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham, who put it up for sale in 1763 before it disappeared for nearly 150 years.
The art historian John Somerville said: "The last Duke of Buckingham had an illegitimate son who inherited his estate. He was made a baronet, and if the painting had not left his collection it would have directly gone to Samantha's father, Sir Reggie Sheffield. There are many strange ironies surrounding the history of this painting."
The last known owner was Sir Francis Cook, the British millionaire, who sold it off as part of the Cook Collection.
Sir Francis, who drove a salmon pink Rolls-Royce, shed his paintings almost as quickly as he acquired his seven wives, never realising that he had one of the world's most valuable artworks under his nose.
The history of Salvator Mundi, now believed to be owned by an American syndicate, is cloaked in mystery.
Once owned by Charles I, it was included in an inventory of his art to be sold after his execution. Mr Somerville, the Cook Collection archivist, believes the King's wife Henrietta Maria may have brought it from the French court where Leonardo spent his last days.
It eventually ended up in the possession of the Duke of Buckingham and only resurfaced in 1900, when it was bought for £120 by the first baronet Sir Francis Cook. His great-grandson, also Sir Francis, sold it in 1958, believing it to be the work of one of Leonardo's followers. The buyer was recorded as a Mr Kuntz, thought to be a false name.
The art world believes the owners will put the painting up for sale after the exhibition, but Mr Somerville is cautious. "All paintings in the King's collection had a special mark on the back but this is missing.
"It is quite possible it was removed at some point in its history but if you went into a court of law you could not prove beyond doubt that this picture was that Leonardo."
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 3 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
- 4 Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo
- 5 Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
This is what a film sex scene actually looks like on set (mostly awkward)
Taylor Swift, 1989 - album review: Pop star shows 'promising signs of maturity'
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - review: Silly, sensational but still sensitive
The Apprentice 2014: Nurun Ahmed and Lindsay Booth sent home in double firing
Breaking Bad season 6 hoax: Vince Gilligan has not confirmed a new series
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are