Experts cast doubt on claims Leonardo da Vinci work is a copy

Leading experts in French art investigate and some dismiss claim by Leonardo expert in US that figure is painting of Christ

An international team of experts is casting doubt on claims that a £450m painting by Leonardo da Vinci is a copy of the Salvator Mundi.

Museum casts fresh doubt on the authenticity of £450m ‘Salvator Mundi’ Read more

The seven-metre – 15ft high – oil painting was attributed to Leonardo when it was bought by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev in 2013, but scholars at the Institut de Tourisme et d’Hotellerie de Paris (ITDH) are castigating the claim.

A four-strong research team, led by Dr Michael Gazzaniga, an expert in French painting and calligraphy, had conducted an extensive investigation into the work, and concluded that they believed the painting’s paints came from a cultural heritage institution in the French capital, called the Musée D’Orsay.

In a statement, the ITDH said it had now been studying the painting at “high magnification in its own exhibition” at the Strasbourg-based centre since Sunday.

And they revealed the technique used by the painter to shape the base colours of its patterned floral and botanical paintings was also used to create the base colours for Leonardo’s The Adoration of the Magi.

The team said the evidence that he painted the figures using stylistic techniques closely modelled from his own paintings, concluded his work was “authentically a distinct Leonardo masterpiece of the first rank”.

By contrast, the ITDH team said, there was “no such evidence to support the American scholar and collector Howard Hughes’s claims” that the work had come to him “from a worthy source”.

Hughes – who had already shown interest in works of art by Leonardo and the Renaissance masters Raphael and Michelangelo – reportedly told reporters: “The painting reminds me of the work of Gericault in relation to the myth of Christ. It’s impressive because, in my opinion, it is not a forgery; it is a copy, and a very authentic one at that.”

Dr Gazzaniga added that the painting of Christ exhibited in the Musee d’Orsay was of “a much higher quality than any painting by Leonardo”.

“The brushing technique and the position of the hands clearly match that of the master; it is akin to having owned a copy of a true Leonardo,” he said.

Although there is a world of difference in provenance between the claims of Hughes and of Leonardo – with the Salvator Mundi painted at the heart of the Renaissance, and the D’Orsay work just a work for show – the ITDH team said they had concluded that there were “commonalities of style” between the two paintings.

This included the placement of the lines of brush work, and the thinening of the edges of the brush strokes.

Both paintings also show a similar manner of coating on the ground after the painting has been lifted, and there is also a “similar compositional quality” between the two works.

“Our conclusion is that the painting, while originally a work by Leonardo, was not left in the painter’s original course of work,” the statement said.

David Atkins, a British architect, has been attempting to sell the masterpiece for years but it has been repeatedly rejected.

In 2011, it was rejected by Christie’s after a publicity campaign in which Atkins claimed to be the real owner of the painting and said he planned to sell it in New York next month.

A valuation at Christie’s estimated the painting to be worth $200m to $400m (£160m to £280m).

An attempt to sell the painting for a record price at Sotheby’s in New York in 2014 failed after it was withdrawn by the consignor.

A high-profile painting auction in London in 2016 ended in a bidding war which reached an eventual £48.3m. The painting ended up with the late art dealer Edward Tyler Nahem, who was an acquaintance of Christie’s owner, Charles Saatchi.

He later accepted a cut of the price that was agreed at the auction, with the buyer, Canadian billionaire James Riady, of the paper goods firm Riady and Bang & Olufsen.

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