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A National Gallery restoration that repudiates earlier National Gallery restorations

When major museums acquire major pictures, they invariably take additional technical and artistic possession of them through restorations. By transforming pictures’ appearances, museum staffs lay claim to an exclusive up-to-the-minute knowledge of a picture’s material and artistic traits that renders all earlier studies obsolete and activates use of the possessive “our” – as in “our Duccio” or “our Artemisia Gentileschi”. For much-criticised museums like the National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the introduction of a well-preserved picture within a collection risks spotlighting in-house restoration damage – as might well have happened, for example, had the Met exhibited its newly acquired, fabulously well-preserved Velazquez portrait Juan de Pareja and its Perino del Vaga The Holy Family with the Infant St John the Baptist before restoring them. Today, the National Gallery seeks to counter long-standing criticisms by allowing its restorers to present their own interventions and purposes through broadcast social media. In a press release of 2 August 2019, the gallery’s Director of Collections and Research, Caroline Campbell, said of a restored panel painting:

“The National Gallery is one of just a handful of institutions across the world that is able to carry out painting conservation of this complexity. As this work has been carried out behind closed doors, this display is an opportunity to share this expertise with the public and also to celebrate our conservation skills, in a similar way to how we shared the conservation of our Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait via a series of films.”

Such hubristic public relations manoeuvres are risky. As Michel Favre-Felix, painter and President of ARIPA (Association Internationale pour le Respect de l’Intégrité du Patrimoine Artistique), demonstrates below, restoration errors are still to be encountered among the nation’s pictures and the restorers’ own explanations leave conspicuously unaddressed questions. [M.D.]

Above, Fig. 1: Left, the National Gallery’s Artemisia Gentileschi Self-portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, as presented by the Paris-based auctioneer Christophe Joron-Derem for the 19 December 2017 auction; right, as subsequently restored by the National Gallery.

Michel Favre-Felix writes:

Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, which was acquired two years ago for £3.6 million (a record for the artist), has already become a new iconic painting of the National Gallery. To the appeal of a self-portrait by the most celebrated female painter of the 17th century, the picture (above, Fig. 1) adds a telling symbolic aura. Commentators have not failed to underline that this martyred saint Catherine, holding the instrument of her ordeal – the miraculously broken spiked wheel – persevering in her faith in the midst of persecution and rewarded with eternal salvation, mirrors the shattering life-story of Artemisia herself, young victim of a rape, maintaining her testimony under torture and finally triumphing in her female artist career. This emblematic portrait is the central feature in the present major exhibition of her work – the first ever in UK – “Artemisia”, National Gallery, London WC2, until 24 January 2021.

Just two weeks after announcing the purchase, in July 2018, the National Gallery began posting on YouTube the first of what became a long series of videos of the restoration in progress (see the list at the end of this article). No fewer than four of them deal with the picture’s cleaning – the need for it (which will be discussed below); the expected effects; its progress and its results.

Such a pedagogic/celebratory (to re-use Caroline Campbell’s expression) public programme is unprecedented. Hitherto, if the Gallery decided to communicate an account of one of its restorations it usually appeared in its scholarly Technical Bulletin, with a strong emphasis on the scientific analysis of the picture’s material structure and a minimal part, if any, given to the hands-on cleaning process itself. The set of YouTube videos exactly reverses that relationship.

As in political discourses, vocabulary plays a key role and carries far-reaching meanings. Old traditional terms might surface, as when the curator, Letizia Treves, observes rather innocently that ‘the picture is quite dirty’, expressing her expectations from its forthcoming cleaning (in Who was… 4:18). ‘Dirty’ is the customary loaded codeword used to justify a total varnish removal. It leaves no room for investigations or nuances: ‘dirt’ cannot reasonably be even partially kept on a painting; it must be entirely wiped out. (See Fig. 1, above, left, for the pre-restoration condition.)

Larry Keith’s expressions are purposefully different. He not only restrains himself from using the loaded and derogatory, non-scientific term ‘dirt’ to describe what is in reality a coat of old varnishes, but he takes care to amend the ambiguous twin-word of ‘cleaning’, by changing its sense, at the start of his talk (in Cleaning… 0:25): ‘Cleaning meaning the… [short pause] …reduction of the old discoloured degraded varnishes’ (“reduction” being the operative word). This singular short pause in his otherwise fluent and dynamic speech is eloquent.

A closer look shows that this change of definition has matured over several years. The cleaning of the Virgin of the Rocks, in 2009/2010, was already presented as a ‘reduction’ [Endnote 1], although this peculiar aspect went rather unnoticed at the time [2]. Earlier, when commenting on the restoration of Guido Reni’s The Adoration of the Shepherds in 2007, Larry Keith mentioned that to clean might be ‘to remove or reduce the old discoloured varnishes’ [3]. If cleaning now means a reduction rather than an elimination, this new position has generated a number of unaddressed questions.

1) First, what does this policy change reveal about the systematic total cleanings made in the past? What happened to the previous certainties on which the gallery’s conservation policy was grounded and which had served to authorise its restorations? Since the post-Second World War ‘Great Picture Cleaning Controversy’, the gallery’s conservation department maintained, against its national and international critics, that a complete removal of varnish was the only way to establish the true, objective, unfalsified state of a painting, and to recover as closely as possible its original appearance as created by the artist. This was not held to be one option among others. It was the inescapable and inevitable conclusion of methodical reasoning itself. The leading proponent of this policy, the de facto chief restorer, Helmut Ruhemann, went so far as to list nine ‘main Arguments against Part Cleaning’ in a crucial chapter of his 1968 book The Cleaning of Paintings (pp. 214-217), which had set the Gallery’s official institutional methodology for more than half a century – and still exerts an influence.

Part-cleaning was not only ruled out in theory but was held to be both unfeasible and deceiving in practice. Ruhemann’s strongest and most persuasive arguments were technical ones. Using the authority of the practitioner, he asserted that a reduction of the varnishes regularly produces an uneven result leaving disruptive and disfiguring ‘patches’ scattered all over the paint. He claimed that a half-way cleaning was arbitrary and inevitably imprecise, the restorer being ‘condemned to groping in the dark’. He stressed that, if there was some old varnish left, it would be impossible to suppress all the faulty and distorting old retouching that might lie underneath. Moreover, he added that the new retouches would never correctly match the still imperfectly cleaned paint.

This argumentation, unchallenged for decades, happens to have been refuted by Larry Keith’s recent practical demonstration. Although Keith used traditional means (no revolution in tools or solvents or monitoring is used in the Gallery) his ‘reduction’ did not generate the Ruhemann-predicted failures: it neither failed to suppress the old retouches nor to avoid uneven ‘patches’ – nor even failed to achieve perfectly matching indiscernible new retouches.

2) What is the reason for adopting partial cleaning today? On the one hand, in hindsight, we can see that the previous policy of total cleaning was based on spurious arguments but, on the other, it is striking that no revised or new justification is provided in support of the present policy.

Why is it now considered to be appropriate, required – or even essential – to keep a part of the old so-called ‘degraded and discoloured’ varnishes on this painting? Is it to serve as a guarantee for the safety of the paint and possible original glazes underneath when subjected to the cleaning with solvents? Does this last layer of old varnish bear a meaningful aesthetic and/or historic value that ought to be preserved? Does the remnant of the surface coating constitute part of the artistic authenticity of the work of art? Keith provides no indication at all. A full range of arguments in favour of part-way cleaning have been put forward elsewhere since the 1950s by connoisseurs, critics and art historians but Keith refers to none.

In reality these questions concern a majority of works because this portrait is not at all an exceptional case. It was, at the time of its acquisition, in a ‘standard’ condition that is common to so many paintings from past centuries that have been subjected to restorations: from the Gallery’s report it turns out that its surface bore the usual old retouching, and its canvas, already relined as was customary in the past, had since suffered a small tear and will be relined anew.

Acknowledging the ‘reduction’ of the varnishes as the best possible care for this painting implies/concedes that it should have been similarly prescribed and applied successfully to so many comparable paintings, affected by the same usual damages, but which were radically cleaned at the National Gallery.

3) Larry Keith never explains in his videos why he chooses to thin rather than to remove the coat of ‘degraded’ varnish, as was the rule before. He simply strives to show why the old varnish needed a treatment and to demonstrate that he achieved ‘key improvements’ on the test areas where it has been reduced.

About the state of the varnish he draws a distinction, not without reason, between two effects: ‘these old varnishes when they degrade, they turn yellow and they turn foggy…’

That is true in a general way, but it is precisely from there that reflections should begin, because while the first is the natural, predictable, regular evolution of traditional materials, the latter is an unfortunate degradation that preventive care could avoid.

Above, Fig. 2: Screen capture from the video “Cleaning…” – See the full linked-list of videos below.

On this first issue, that of yellowing, the explanations are especially puzzling:

[in Cleaning… 1:27] “You see that where the varnishes have been reduced, the overall tonalities of the picture are much less yellow. The fingers [on the left] are emerging rather pink, instead of this kind of yellow colour [on the right] and I am sure that will become more evident as we move across the picture…”

These comments are puzzling because they hardly fit with what is shown. The old varnish did not turn the skin tonalities markedly and disturbingly yellow (compare the back of the hand on the right with the old varnish on, to the ‘reduced’ one on the fingers on the left at Fig. 2 above), and it is indeed anything but ‘evident’ that it distorted the perception of the colours. It may be recalled that in December 2017, during the presentation of the painting before its auction in Paris, the expert Eric Turquin praised the ‘subtle pinks’ – in his own words – he had no trouble distinguishing in the flesh tones of the portrait with the old varnish on [4].

Above, Fig. 3: Photograph (detail) from the Hyperallergic site, 12 July 2018, showing the “Artemisia” exhibition curator, Letizia Treves, facing the self-portrait before cleaning began. Although top lighting caused a pale reflection on the canvas, lightening the dark tones, it can be seen here that Artemisia’s flesh tones are not so much yellowish as close in their pinkness to the curator’s own natural colouring.

Above, Fig. 4: The restorer Larry Keith, examining the painting before cleaning began, as shown on BBC News 6 July 2018.

The above photos published in July 2018, at the very start of the intervention, in which spectators are present confirm that the variety of colours in the painting was clearly perceptible: the shades of pink of the face, the cream tone of the headscarf, the Naples yellow of the palm leaf or the ochre of the wood read easily and naturally. One can observe that there was no oppressing monochrome veil distorting the shades of the portrait, which were quite close to the natural skin tones of the viewers, as the photographs testify (Figs. 3 and 4).

Surprisingly, if not tendentiously, Keith even evokes an ‘accumulation of varnishes’, which he ventures would result from ‘many restorations that have probably occurred’ in the past (in Cleaning… 4:35). ‘Many’ is merely hypothetical since the history of this painting is totally unknown between the years of its creation, circa 1615-1617, and the 1940s when it resurfaced, only to be quietly kept in a French family (Pes, J. 2018).

Looking at the photographs of the initial state, it is difficult to deduce a superimposition of many added layers. Fortunately, this will be checked since Keith has announced that ‘minuscule samples [will] help us understand the layers structure of the accumulation of varnishes’ (in Cleaning… 4:35). Fine. It will be of great interest for the public and the experts that the result of this investigation by the laboratory be disclosed: how many layers of old varnishes? To what total thickness? Until these results are established and cited the idea of an ‘accumulation’ of layers of varnish will remain a puzzling assumption.

4) Beside the issue of yellowing – that he admitted not to be ‘evident’ – Keith places a greater emphasize on the second, undisputable, aspect of the picture condition, that of the varnish getting foggy. This loss of its transparency is, by contrast, plainly documented.

Even during the presentation at the 2017 auction in Paris, while the subtlety of the colours was praised, the ‘dullness of the varnish’ was nonetheless underlined and attributed to the fact that the painting had remained in the same family for several generations.

The video illustrates the consequences of this phenomenon (in Cleaning… from 1:40):

“… where [the foggy varnishes] are over the darker tones, the darker tones become quite a bit lighter. You can see that here, with that sort of hazy presence. And whereas down here where I started reducing the old varnishes, you can see the darker colours are much darker and the range from light to dark is much enhanced. And I think this helps you understand how [Artemisia] has laid out the folds, and helps you understand what is in front of what.

“…I think the thing here [in the ‘reduction’ in progress] that is most significant and really very rewarding is to see now the range from light to dark, which [Artemisia] has used, and her modelling of forms, which gives this sculptural presence.”

Indeed, Artemisia’s artistic expression rests on the illusion of spatial depth and on the convincing impression of three-dimensional figures. And this pictorial achievement is only displayed when the half-tones, dark values and contrasts have their full effect, which requires a good transparency of the varnish final layer.

It is hence plainly justified to try to regain this fundamental quality. However, in the case of this painting, such faint cloudiness is a common and rather benign alteration caused by humidity (that is to say, by a lack of prevention from its keepers). Physically, this phenomenon results from the scattering of light – not exactly on the ‘varnish’s own kind of fine cracks’ as it is said rather simplistically in the video – but on a multitude of micro-fissures, much smaller than usual cracks, that have developed within the varnish film at a microscopic scale that is invisible to the naked eye.

Above, Fig. 5: Above, Fig. 5: detail of Artemisia’s arm, showing un-thinned (slightly dull) varnish on the right and thinned varnish on the left.

As can be seen on the video, the thinning of the varnish has cleared the cloudy effect and has thus enhanced saturation and contrasts [above, Fig. 5]. Yet, the cause/effect relationship is not that simple. The dissipation of the hazy opacity is the result of a specific physical process: it comes from the ‘closing’ of the micro-fissures, which is obtained through the momentary softening and swelling of the varnish film when suitable solvents are applied to it. Once the solvent has evaporated, the micro-fissures have closed and so, vanished. Since the ‘reduction’ was done with solvents, their penetration into the varnish film provoked the swelling/closing result. Thus, this was a linked side-effect and it would not have been necessary to thin the entire varnish layer for that to happen. For this kind of light haziness, a simple exposure of a varnish surface to an appropriate solvent, at much lower levels – i.e. ethanol in form of vapours – without any ‘reduction’, could have produced the same positive result (Pfister, P. 2011, Demuth, P. 2001): the saturation of colours; the in-depth setting of the figure; the sculptural modelling created by Artemisia, would all have been recovered.

Of course, when such a minimal treatment is chosen, the tonality of the varnish remains unchanged, since its thickness is undisturbed even as its transparency is regained.

Knowing this, we realize that there is confusion between the two results. In truth, a physical reduction was not essential to recover the range of values from light to dark and modelling of forms intended by the artist, which could have been achieved otherwise. Essentially, the thinning of the varnish was used principally and specifically to obtain the ‘much less yellow’ overall tone. This result is held – in Larry Keith’s account – to be such an obvious improvement as to require no further justification. Yet, it does – and we see below why it needs questioning.

5) The transparency is a basic undisputed requirement for this varnish (as for any other). But what is the justification for making it ‘much less yellow’?

When we leave aside our own era’s cultural preferences and consider the materials and varnishing practices that prevailed in the XVIIth century, we realize that the (disparaged) ‘old varnish’ found on this painting had the best chance of resembling the original finished appearance as made by Artemisia herself.

Above, Fig. 6: A section of de Mayerne’s text (Folio 151r) mentioning Artemisia Gentileschi and her varnish.

Throughout these supposedly informative and instructive videos it is striking that no reference is ever made to the kind of varnish that would have been used by the artist herself, or, even, to those that were common in her circle and time in Italy. This omission is hard to justify since relevant historical and technical references have survived and are accessible. For example, Turquet de Mayerne’s manuscript notebook (written between 1620 and 1646), which is the main historic testimony and source of information on the painting techniques of this period, contains a famous reference to an ‘amber varnish’ [5], ascribed to both Artemisia (active c. 1610-1653) and her father Orazio Gentileschi (active c. 1587 -1639) – see Fig. 6, above. De Mayerne specifies that this varnish had a strong reddish tone and was used by the instrument makers to varnish lutes [6].

It should be borne in mind that, at that time, in the absence of precise identification, the term ‘amber’ (otherwise called ‘c(h)arabe’) encompassed a group of resins that were close by their consistency, colour, workability and effect – and among which were chiefly the different semi-fossil resins that we now classify as copals, which range from semi-hard to hard and are easier to dissolve than true fossilized amber (Leonard et al. 2001, Holmes, M. 1999).

Furthermore, the expression amber varnish ‘coming from Venice, with which they varnish lutes’, added in the passage on Orazio (Folio 9v), most probably indicates a ready-made product. At that time in Italy many varnish formulations were no longer made in the artists workshops but prepared and sold by colours merchants. The painter Gian Battista Volpato quotes the ‘amber varnish’ as one of them [7]. De Mayerne states that a so-called ‘Oil of Amber from Venice’ (that is, a fat varnish made of ‘amber’ dissolved in a possibly larger proportion of oil), which he supposes to be the one used by Orazio, was sold in every Italian colour shop [8]. The main point is that these prepared varnishes formed a dry film that approached the legendary hardness of amber and had a similar golden-brassy colour. Some rosin (colophony) could be added, which was useful for improving the working properties of the mixtures (Leonard et al. 2001). Its marked orange hue would also increase the warm tonality of the whole – see Fig. 7 below.

Above, Fig. 7: Colophony (or rosin, resinous part remaining after the essential oil has been extracted from the balsam of Pinus maritima Lamb. by distillation.)

It is mentioned that Artemisia mixed her ‘amber’ varnish with oil and spread the blend as an intermediary layer upon the already dried parts of her work in progress, before continuing to paint (Folio 151r). This method, commonly called ‘oiling-out’, has three benefits for reworking: it brings back the initial saturation of the first colours that might have turned dull when drying; it enables a fluent application of the later colours; and, it promotes their physical adhesion to the ones beneath.

Concerning Orazio, de Mayerne notes that he used to add a drop of ‘amber’ varnish directly to his colours on his palette – especially to the ones of the flesh tones – in order to make them more ductile and quicker to dry (Folio 9v).

Was it also chosen as final varnish? The use of the same compound for mixing with colours, for intermediary ‘oiling-out’ and for final varnishing is indeed consistent with what is known of painters’ practices at the time. Examinations of paintings by Caravaggio (of whom Orazio was a disciple) have shown that remains of his final varnish – resin in oil – were similar to the ‘oiling-out’ layers found in his paint structure (Arciprete, B. 2004).On the same folio (151r) where de Mayern mentions Artemisia’s oiling-out method, he reports on another ‘charabe’ varnish, which can be used ‘for varnishing and for mixing on the palette with the colours’ [9].

Moreover, a discovery made by the Getty Conservation Institute in 2000 confirms that Orazio also adopted an ‘amber type’ varnish of his final coating. Found on one of his painting (Lot and his Daughters, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) executed about 1622, this rare original varnish proved to be composed of Manilla copal and rosin, precisely (Leonard et al. 2001) [Figs. 7 and 8].

Above, Fig. 8: Manilla Copal (from Agathis dammara Lamb.)

This tangible historical/material evidence of what was an ‘amber-like’ formulation provides a precious testimony of its visual effect on the picture: it displayed a notable warm golden tone over the parts where it was still present (see Figs. 9 and 10 below). Given that Artemisia learnt to paint in her father’s studio, it is beyond doubt that Orazio would have shared both his materials and his practices with his daughter.

Above, Fig. 9: The effect of Orazio’s varnish on the sky of his Lot and his Daughters (in The Burlington Magazine’s article, Vol CXLII n°1174, p.5.)

Above, Fig. 10: Macro-photograph of the varnished sky. Note the bright blue colour of the paint that appears in some spots where the ‘amber-like’ varnish is missing (from the same Burlington Magazine article, p.9.)

In addition to those clues, there is the certainty that Artemisia’s varnish could only have been composed with resins among those of her time (the end of 16th/ first half of 17th centuries): sandarac; oleoresins balsams from the silver fir, the larch or the spruce; colophony; mastic; copals, with or without oil [10] (Figs. 7, 8, 11 and 12). Reconstructions of historical recipes with such ingredients, prepared and applied following traditional methods are converging to show that they provided a natural warm tone – a ‘golden glow’ – that moreover increased surprisingly quickly (Favre-Félix, M. 2017, Carlyle, L. 2005, CCI 1994) (Fig. 13).

Above, Fig. 11: Strasbourg turpentine (balsam – oleoresine – of the silver fir, Abies pectinata DC. – from Kremer Pigmente.)

Above, Fig. 12: Sandarac (from Tetraclinis articulata Mast.)

Above, Fig. 13:As an example, the reconstruction of an historical recipe, using one resin and one oleoresin – a type that became increasingly prevalent from the end of the 16th and throughout the 17th centuries – showed a notable increase of its natural coloration within a short time. 

Thus, there lies a major contradiction of modern restoration: the profession asserts a strict adherence to the scientific study of the artists’ materials and techniques, but continues to ignore the technical characteristics of the varnishes that are known to have been used in those centuries. Further, while it aims to present paintings as close as possible to the artists’ conception it still declines to take into account how their paintings had once looked with their original final layer on, and it persists in eliminating the ‘yellow tone’ of any varnish encountered on old master paintings.

CODA:

A last video deals with the significant choice of a frame for Artemisia’s self-portrait. The Head of Framing, Peter Schade, points out that an authentic frame from the 16th century – wood-carved, painted or gilded – will always surpass any copy of it, even those that look to be perfect reproductions. He makes the following crucial remark [Choosing… 8:45]: “We always carry the baggage of modernity, of our time… And that gets always in some way transferred into reproduction frames. Usually, we don’t see it now but you can look it back at the history of frame reproductions, in the gallery as well, and [see that with] most reproduction frames, after twenty, thirty years they don’t match up to originals.”

Larry Keith had then to admit – albeit in carefully chosen words – that the same rule of unwilling, modern distortion applies to restoration:

“[9:12] …It is the same thing about how we… decisions we make about restoration itself, you know. We think we try to be… I guess what we can say now, is that we are very transparent about the decision-making process but it’s definitely an interpretation all the way down the line”.

Restoration being a contemporary “interpretation” of the work of the past, transparency is essential, and transparency implies clear explanations for the present and for the older interventions. But, strikingly, Larry Keith has not explained in any way the main justification for reducing rather than eliminating surviving varnishes. With regard to the use of retouching – e.g. in the reconstruction of the cropped top of the crown – his presentation and discussions are fair (see Reconstructing… and Retouching…) But on matters of cleaning and varnish this essay’s conspicuous technical, aesthetic and historical documentary omissions testify to an enduring institutional avoidance of transparency on the most vital artistic questions of art conservation at the National Gallery.

Above, Fig. 14: Artemisia’s Self-portrait, left, as in 2017 at auction; centre, same state but as provided by the National Gallery to the press in July 2018, before cleaning; and, right, as at the end of 2018 at the National Gallery, after cleaning and restoration.

Michel Favre-Felix, 9 October 2020.

THE NATIONAL GALLERY RESTORATION VIDEOS:

1) Starting the restoration of Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Self Portrait’ – Now entitled: “The art restoration plan for Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Self Portrait'” – as posted on the 20th of July 2018.

2) Cleaning Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Self Portrait’ – as posted on the 27th of July 2018.

3) ‘It’s such a 17th century thing to do’ | Cleaning Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Self Portrait’ – as posted on the 3rd of August 2018.

4) Who was Artemisia Gentileschi? – as posted on the 20th of August 2018.

5) Finishing the cleaning | Cleaning Artemisia’s ‘Self Portrait’ – as posted on the 30th of August 2018.

6) Repairing a 17th century canvas – as posted on the 10th of September 2018.

7) Applying the moisture treatment – as posted on the 21st of September 2018.

8) Finishing the relining – as posted on the 2nd of October 2018.

9) Reconstructing the unusual composition of Artemisia’s ‘Self Portrait’ – as posted on the 9th of October 2018.

10) Retouching a 17th century painting – as posted on the 13th of November 2018.

11) Choosing a frame – as posted on the 26th of November 2018.

12) Framing Artemisia – as posted on the 14th of December 2018.

ENDNOTES:

[1] “Indeed not all the old varnish was removed – it was simply reduced to a level which helps us to fully appreciate the painting.” (Larry Keith – Restoring Leonardo, National Gallery website.)

[2] “By removing the ugly varnish…” Jonathan Jones commenting on this cleaning in The Guardian, 13 July 2010. When reviewing the National Gallery’s restoration of its Leonardo Virgin of the Rocks, Jones expressed delight that the painting had been “freed from an amber prison”.

[3] National Gallery Podcast: Restoring Reni’s ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’, 1 :48.

[4] ARTECENTRO – Artemisia Gentileschi, Sainte Catherine d’Alexandrie, vente le 19 décembre 2017. Time 2: 47.

[5] ‘Vernix d’Ambre venant de Venise’ (Sloane MS 2052 Folio 9v).

[6] ‘Ce Vernix est fort rouge & est celuy des faiseurs de Luths’ (Sloane MS 2052 Folio 150 v).

[7] ‘quella d’ambra si compra, quella di mastice la facio io’ (Merrrifield, M.P, p. 743).

[8] ‘Chés touts les vendeurs de couleurs en Italie on vend une huile espaisse, qu’ils appellent Huile d’Ambre de Venise […] Je croy que c’est ceste huyle dont m’a parlé & se sert Gentileschij ’ (Sloane MS 2052 folio 146v).

[9] ‘Et pour vernir: & pour mesler sur la palette avec les couleurs’ (Sloane MS 2052 folio 151r).

[10] Such a choice of resins for varnishes is also noted by Van Dyck, at the same period, on a folio of a sketchbook: fir balsam, colophony, unspecified ‘vernizia’ and amber varnish (Kirby, J. 1999, p. 13).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Arciprete, B. (2004), ‘Il restauro’, La Flagellazione di Caravaggio, il Restauro, Electa Napoli.

Carlyle, L. (2005) ‘Representing authentic surfaces for oil paintings: experiments with 18th and 19th-century varnish recipes’, Art of the Past, Sources and Reconstructions. Proceedings of the first symposium of the Art Technological Source Research study group. Archetype Publications.

CCI (1994) Varnishes: Authenticity and Permanence Workshop, Canadian Conservation Institute, (Reviewed by Neil Cockerline).

Christiansen, K., Mann, J. W. (2001) Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi – New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press, New Haven.

De Mayerne, T. Turquet, (1620) Pictoria Sculptoria & quae subalternarum artium, British Library, Sloane MS 2052. Trancription in Berger, E. (1901) Quellen für Maltechnik Während der Renaissance und Deren Folgezeit (XVI.-XVIII. Jahrhundert), München.

Demuth, P. (2001) ‘Regeneration of blanched natural resin varnishes with solvent vapour’ Hochschule für Bildende Künste – Dresden/ The ENCoRE Symposium: Recent development in conservation-restoration research 19-21 June 2001.

Eastlake, C. L., (1847) Methods and Materials of Painting, Dover Publications, New York (2001)

Favre-Félix, M. ‘On the recipe for a varnish used by El Greco’, Conservar Património 26 (2017) pp. 37-49 – ARP – Associação Profissional de Conservadores-Restauradores de Portugal http://revista.arp.org.pt/pdf/2016023.pdf

Holmes, M. (1999), ‘Amber Varnish and the Technique of the Gentileschi’, in Artemisia Gentileschi and the Authority of Art: critical reading and catalogue raisonné, R. Ward Bissel, Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 169-182.

Kirby, J. (1999) ‘The Painter’s Trade in the Seventeenth Century: Theory and Practice’- National Gallery Technical Bulletin, Vol 20.

Leonard M., Khandekar N., Carr D.W. (2001) ‘Amber Varnish and Orazio Gentileschi’s Lot and his Daughters ’, The Burlington Magazine Vol. CXLIII, pp. 4-10

Merrifield, M. P. (1849) Medieval and Renaissance Treatises on the Arts of Painting, Dover Publications, New York (1999).

Pes, J. (2018) ‘The National Gallery’s New Artemisia Gentileschi Should Be a Triumph – But Clouds Are Forming Over Its Ownership During WWII’, December 12, 2018, News-artnet.com.

Pfister, P. (2011) ‘Régénération : l’emploi des vapeurs d’alcool et les dangers des alcools liquides’ / Kunsthaus – Zürich / Nuances 42/43, pp. 24-29.

Ruhemann, H. (1968) The Cleaning of Paintings. Problems & Potentialities. Praeger Publishers.


The Disappeared Salvator Mundi’s endgame: Part I: Altered States and a Disappeared Book

Michael Daley writes: As the world reels from China’s latest plague, the fifteen-year Salvator Mundi Saga has slipped into never-never land. The famously disappeared picture has been likened to an opera by its instigators and is set to become a musical in 2022 in which “artistic liberties will be freely taken to make an enlightening and entertaining experience”. Amazon is offering T-Shirts that carry the Salvator Mundi not as it looked in 2017 when it disappeared but as it looked in 2011 when first presented as a Leonardo at the National Gallery (see below, Fig. 3). The restorer’s own paintbrushes (which had been used to produce three distinctly different states or appearances) were auctioned on eBay with a $1,000 reserve. No bid was received. Back in the real world, before considering the rise and demise of a perpetually morphing disappeared picture’s attribution upgrade that netted $80 million, $127 million and $450 million in two restoration guises over four years on a $1,000 purchase that was overstated tenfold by its owners, we note three further bizarre developments, including a disappeared book of technical analysis and a disappeared Louvre catalogue.

1 – THE LOUVRE’S DISAPPEARED BOOK OF TECHNICAL DATA FOR A DISAPPEARED PAINTING

Above, Fig. 1: Left, a disappeared book; right, a disappeared ascription.

On 30 March, the Art Newspaper disclosed that last year the Louvre vaporised a 45-page book of technical examinations made in 2018 on the disappeared Salvator Mundi painting by C2RMF (Centre for Research and Restorations of the Museums of France). The Editions Hazan book, Léonard de Vinci: Le Salvator Mundi (Fig. 1, above, left), had been produced for the October 2019 opening of Léonard de Vinci, the Louvre’s major exhibition marking the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death, but it was withdrawn shortly before the opening even though the authors reportedly considered their examinations “to have demonstrated that the work was executed by Leonardo”. (The claim, of course, is implausible: technical examinations can sometimes disprove an attribution but can never establish artistic authorship.)

A Louvre spokesman said the book, written by the Louvre curator Vincent Delieuvin and C2RMF’s Myriam Eveno and Elisabeth Ravaud, had been “a project in case the Louvre got the chance to exhibit the painting” and that because this had not happened “it is not going to be published” – which seems tantamount to saying “If we can borrow it, it’s a technically-supported Leonardo; if we cannot, it’s not”. A copy of the disappeared book has been seen by Dianne Dwyer Modestini, who had restored the picture between 2005 and 2017. Modestini feels the conclusions confirm her own, earlier, judgements, even though they “do not reveal anything I did not already know about the materials and techniques…”

2 – THE LOUVRE’S DISAPPEARED CATALOGUE WITH A NON-APPEARING, NOW DISAPPEARED PAINTING

Second, to the embarrassment of a disappeared book of technical examinations, we disclose another disappeared Louvre publication: the catalogue for the museum’s 2019-20 Léonard de Vinci exhibition was also junked and replaced shortly before the opening. The two editions of the catalogue were identical except for one detail. In the first, the disappeared painting was splashed on the front cover as by Leonardo – “Front cover: Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi (detail of cat. 157), Ministry of Culture, Saudi Arabia Kingdom”. (See Fig. 1, above, right.) The author of that endorsing entry was Vincent Delieuvin, who co-curated the exhibition with Louis Frank. Delieuvin’s public commitment to the Leonardo attribution was made in the catalogue of a small 2016 Leonardo exhibition at the Italian Embassy titled: Léonard en France. Le maître et ses élèves 500 ans après la traversée des Alpes, 1516-2016 (Leonardo in France. The master and his pupils 500 years after the crossing of the Alps, 1516-2016). There, Delieuvin ventured of the now-disappeared picture “…Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi whose autograph version seems to have reappeared very recently, unfortunately in very bad condition. The circumstances of the creation of this work are unfortunately not known.”

In the second printed catalogue, Delieuvin – with no explanation for the volte-face – correctly describes the Salvator Mundi as the Leonardo studio work that entered the Cook Collection in 1900 (on no provenance and that was later sold for £45) – namely: “Salvator Mundi, version Cook, vers 1505-1515″. A second Leonardo studio version, the de Ganay Salvator Mundi, was included in the Louvre exhibition as catalogue no. 158: “Salvator Mundi, version Ganay”. The choice of substitute may have been pointed: the Ganay picture had flopped when proposed in 1978 and 1982 as the supposedly lost autograph Leonardo prototype Salvator Mundi painting of which no record exists. Such notwithstanding, provenance claims made on behalf of that candidate were adopted and merged with those made on behalf of the Cook version. Because of the non-appearance of the disappeared Cook version, originally no. 157 in the catalogue, there is now a gap in the published catalogue between cat. 156 and cat. 158. That numerical lacuna testifies to the fateful loss of institutional support for the second would-be autograph Leonardo Salvator Mundi in forty years. (See Fig. 1, above, right.)

Above, Fig. 2: Left, the de Ganay Salvator Mundi which, in 1978 and 1982, had been proposed as a long-lost Leonardo prototype painting; right, the more heavily damaged and made-over ex-Cook Collection Salvator Mundi, which was presented as a long-lost Leonardo prototype painting at the National Gallery in November 2011.

3 – SOME DAY, MAYBE, NEVER…

After fetching $450 million in 2017 at Christie’s, New York, as Leonardo’s (supposedly) autograph, (supposedly) long-lost, (supposedly) iconic male equivalent of the Mona Lisa, the painting (really did) disappear without a trace, leaving the world bemused and the picture’s briefly “vindicated” advocates to play blame games. It was promised the painting would be launched as a Leonardo at the official opening of the United Arab Emirates spanking new Abu Dhabi Louvre Museum in 2018. That did not happen. It was said the painting would star as A Discovered Leonardo at the Paris Louvre’s grand 2019 Leonardo blockbuster. That did not happen either, just as we had predicted. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture has possession of the disappeared painting and plans to store it while deciding whether or not to build an exclusively Western art museum to house this once again officially-deemed Leonardo school Christian image (“Saudi Arabia’s Secret Plans to Unveil Its Hidden da Vinci-and Become an Art-World Heavyweight”, 6 June 2020).

A MUSEUM FOR A PICTURE NO MUSEUM WANTED

It might seem unlikely that the disappeared former Leonardo Salvator Mundi will reappear in a purpose-built museum of Western art in Arabia when it is now well known (thanks to Ben Lewis’s 2019 lid-lifting book The Last Leonardo) that the picture had been offered to, and rejected by: the Getty Museum; the Hermitage; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Vatican; the Dallas Museum; a German auction house; Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie, and even, at a knock-down $80 million, to the Qatari royal family.

WHY DID THE BIG WESTERN MUSUMS BACK OFF?

The National Gallery launched the Leonardo attribution in its 2011-2012 Leonardo blockbuster, Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, after covertly helping to assemble its proclaimed “Unusually Uniform Scholarly Consensus”. The gallery made no attempt, however, to buy the Salvator Mundi. Similarly, and notwithstanding National Gallery claims of blanket endorsement by the Metropolitan Museum’s curators of pictures and drawings, the Met, too, did not buy what Christie’s dubbed “The Last Leonardo”. Despite publicly avowing support for the Leonardo ascription, the Met’s Chairman of European Paintings, Keith Christiansen, has (so far as we know) written nothing in its support – in marked contrast to his decisive role in the museum’s 2004 purchase of the tiny Madonna and Child that Christie’s offered as the “The Last Duccio”. Where the Met’s director, Philippe de Montebello, shuffled financial mountains to acquire the Duccio at Christiansen’s behest, Thomas Campbell, de Montebello’s successor from 2009 to 2017, tweeted after the 2017 $450 million Salvator Mundi sale that he hoped the mystery buyer “understands conservation issues” and had “read the small print”. Many were sickened by Christie’s globally-hyped removal of a sixteenth century painting from an old masters’ sale context to offer it (buttressed by cross-linked and mutually assured sale guarantees) among trophy modernist “icons” – and all on a picture Christie’s had passed over when it was offered in 2005.

SALVATOR MUNDI IS A PAINTING OF THE MOST ICONIC FIGURE IN THE WORLD BY THE MOST IMPORTANT ARTIST OF ALL TIME” – LOÏC GOUZER

Above, Fig. 3: Left, Loïc Gouzer, Christie’s former co-chairman of Americas post-war and contemporary art, next to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled at a press preview; centre, the Salvator Mundi as when sold as a Leonardo at Christie’s, New York, on 15 November 2017; right, the Amazon T-Shirt sporting the Salvator Mundi as it appeared at the National Gallery in 2011 with many more folds visible in the drapery at Christ’s (true) left shoulder – see below, Figs. 8, 9 and 10.

Above, Fig. 4, top row: Left, a c. 1913 photograph of the Salvator Mundi when in the Cook Collection, England; right, the Salvator Mundi as when sold at Christie’s in November 2017. Bottom row: the same time-line changes with three intermediary states from 2005; 2005; and 2011-2012 (when exhibited as a Leonardo at the National Gallery).

THE INTENSIFYING CRISIS OF ART MARKET CONNOISSEURSHIP

The epically long Salvator Debacle has put the abiding old masters’ connoisseurship crisis centre stage. To restate the intractable root problem: supply is finite – the old masters aren’t working any-more; most big-name works are already in museums; and infinite new global money craves art that bestows cachet and respectability. In February 2018, Guillame Cerutti, Christie’s CEO, purred: “our major clients are looking for trophies. They want quality and rarity in any field. This painting had both aspects, it ticked all the boxes”. Such a global trophy-hungry market can only be grown with dramatically upgraded art trade “sleepers” or outright forgeries. Both stand on restorers’ transforming skills which, along with claimed technical discoveries, licence scholars’ elevation of formerly nondescript works to revered Lost Masterpiece status.

MUSEUMS BEWARE

For Big-Name buyers, risks are high and can trip the grandest museums. The Metropolitan Museum’s David was one of its most popular paintings… until it wasn’t a “David” anymore. In 2004 the Met’s director, Philippe de Montebello, spoke of the “Stoclet Duccio” Madonna and Child as “Filling a gap in our Renaissance collection that even the Metropolitan had scant hopes of ever closing, the addition of a Duccio will enable visitors for the first time to follow the entire trajectory of European painting from its beginnings to the present. Moreover, the Duccio Madonna and Child is a work of sublime beauty. This was a unique opportunity to not only to add a masterpiece to the Museum’s holdings but to give its collections a new dimension.”

The institutional gush was infectious: “The Stoclet Duccio – we can now proudly call it ‘the Metropolitan Duccio’ – is an astonishing achievement”, wrote the New York restorer/some-time dealer, Marco Grassi, who likened the picture’s emergence to a discovered Mozart quartet. The disappeared Salvator Mundi is now likened by its original owners/supporters to the discovery of a new planet: “Paintings by the master are as significant culturally as the planets are celestially”. (It must seem cruel to have discovered and lost a planet in six short years.) Circumspection would have been prudent for Grassi and de Montebello: the Stoclet vendors had prepared a “four-inch thick” legal contract document and refused to allow the picture to be examined technically by the three big museums (the Met, the Getty and the Louvre) selected by Christie’s to bid in a private treaty sale. In 2003, the vendors had withdrawn the picture at the last moment from a big Duccio exhibition in Siena at which specialists would have had the first opportunity since 1935 to examine the picture – not one of the four Duccio scholars who had published monographic studies since 1951 had ever seen the picture which was known only by an old black and white photograph.

MARKETING “A LAST DUCCIO” AND “A LAST LEONARDO” AT CHRISTIE’S, NEW YORK

Above, top, Fig. 5: The Met Duccio as first photographed before 1904 (left); and as seen when sold in 2004.

Above, Fig.6: The disappeared $450 million Salvator Mundi as seen in c. 1913 (left); and as seen when sold at Christie’s, New York, in 2017.

In 1901 no one thought the tiny Madonna and Child (Fig. 5, above, left) a Duccio. Some thought it a Sano di Pietro. The picture had emerged after 1900 and, just like the Salvator Mundi (above, Fig. 6), it did so without provenance. It was said to have been found in a Tuscan antiques shop by Count Stroganoff, a Russian friend of Bernard Berenson and a big collector of “inediti” works that had not appeared in scholarly publications or exhibitions. Stroganoff had it restored and cradled. When, after buying it, Met conservators removed the cradle in 2005 (the year the Salvator Mundi was bought in a provincial U.S. sale for less than the low estimate of $1,200 – for $1,000 plus a $175 charge – it, as mentioned, having been turned down by Christie’s), they found that the panel’s originally gesso-ed back had been scraped down to the bare wood which bore a pencilled ascription to “Segna della Buoninsegna”, an apparent confusion between the Ducciesque painter Segna di Buonaventura and Duccio. In 1904 the head of the Uffizi Gallery judged it “in the manner of Duccio”. When an exhibition of early Sienese painting was held in 1904, a friend of Berenson’s, Carlo Placci, commended a late inclusion of Stroganoff’s recently restored picture which by then was incorporated within a larger frame bearing a metal plaque announcing a Duccio. Stroganoff had attributed his own antique shop purchase. Berenson’s circle would usher it into stardom at a time of considerable intellectual and financial crisis for the scholar – his principal source of income had dried; finding part-replacements for it were proving elusive; he had stopped writing. (Ironically, Berenson had held hopes until 1904 of finding employment as an advisor on Italian purchases at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

By 1904, as Frances Vieta discovered, Stroganoff had no fewer than eight similarly small gold background Sienese style panels, one of which was ascribed to Duccio’s follower Simone Martini and later bequeathed to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. The “Simone Martini” had been dismissed in 1901 by the art historian Giorgio Bernardini as “so heavily restored in the skin tones, and in the red and blue robes, that it is not easy to attribute to anyone.” After seeing it at the Hermitage in 1929, George Martin Richter complained (Burlington Magazine): “Beneath this mantle there is concealed not an organically constructed body but a form rather suggestive of a bag full of washing.”

For all the Christie’s Hype, the Met had bought a Berenson Family-accredited pig in a poke. The museum came under challenge. In 1984 the now c. $50 million picture had been rejected by one of the Big Three Duccio Specialists, Florens Deuchler. ArtWatch International’s founder, Professor James Beck, wrote to the Met’s Chairman, calling for an inquiry and advising the museum to ask for its money back (see Beck’s, From Duccio to Raphael – Connoisseurship in Crisis, 2006, Italy, chapter 6 and Addendum). The Duccio pedigree, like that of the Salvator Mundi, is short, modern and precarious. The Salvator Mundi had no pre-20th century history. The Met’s official history of the Duccio begins not in 1901, when no-one considered it a Duccio, but in 1904 after it had been attributed by Bernard Berenson’s wife, Mary Logan (once), and (twice) by Berenson’s protégé, Frederick Mason Perkins, who trained in music, not art history. Christiansen elaborated: “from that point on the picture has held a central place in the Duccio literature”. Central, but with an unseen and unexamined work that had been dismissed by scholars on its six centuries-late emergence. The then 28-year old Perkins, is cast by Christiansen as a leading specialist in Sienese painting when Logan had written his first article and most of his first book.

Worse, as Vieta further established, Perkins was a fount of lucrative attributional errors. In 1923, he advised Helen Frick (then creating the incredible scholarly resource that is today’s Frick Research Library) to buy two huge marble sculptures from an antiques dealer for $150,000. He attributed these “wonderful” sculptural “masterpieces” to Duccio’s heir, Simone Martini. They had recently been made by the sculptor/forger, Alceo Dossena. Perkins’s fee was ten per cent. In 1933 he attributed an unpublished Madonna and Child surrounded by Angels to Duccio in an article carried in La Diana. The Belgian collector Adolphe Stoclet, the then owner of the now-Met Duccio, bought that second “Perkins Duccio”. In 1989 it was loaned to the Cleveland Museum of Art and there identified by Gianni Mazzoni, an Italian scholar of Sienese art and its forgers, as by the forger Icilio Federico Joni – which experience might have chilled the Stoclet family. Joni is known to have run a little factory of forgers whose works were put onto the market by middlemen, one of whom was Perkins himself. The lynchpin of Christiansen’s case for the “Met Duccio” is Berenson’s subsequent (private) hymning of the Stoclet picture as the loveliest and most characteristic thing Duccio ever did to the Duveen firm which paid him ten per cent on Italian purchases. Despite Berenson’s effusions, Duveen would not touch the “very small and ineffective” picture with a “nearly black” robe.

AN UNPUBLISHED TECHNICAL EXAMINATION AT THE MET

A top-secret post-purchase technical examination of the Duccio was carried out at the Metropolitan Museum. Staff were forbidden to talk to the press. No reports were published. The findings were discussed by Christiansen in the February 2007 Apollo. That article carried an x-ray of the painting showing modern, round-headed, wire nails underneath the picture’s ancient, badly distressed, “candles-burnt” gesso-ed frame. That hard, subversive material fact drew no comment (- other than ours in three consecutive issues of The Jackdaw, in 2008-09, as reprised in this post.) No comment was made, either, about the Met Duccio’s eccentric and pronounced craquelure. Scarcely less remiss than these “material” silences was the Met’s failure to acknowledge and address the uncharacteristically sloppy drawing of the figures, as revealed by infra-red imaging (see Fig. 7, below, centre).

Above, Fig. 7: Left, an infra-red image of the National Gallery’s Duccio triptych (detail); centre, an infra-red image of the Met Duccio (detail); right, an infra-red image of the National Gallery’s indisputably Duccio panel, The Annunciation.

De Montebello, Christiansen and the Met picture restorer Dorothy Mahon travelled to London in autumn 2004 to view the Duccio at Christie’s. They were buying “blind” (unable to conduct technical examinations of the kind made on the other Stoclet/Perkins Duccio) and in knowledge that “the Louvre was working on trying to get the money together”. They spent an hour and a half at Christie’s where “The director made an offer for it on the spot”, and they all then went to see the National Gallery’s “rare and very beautiful Duccio triptych” – “a touchstone of Duccio’s work” (detail, above, left) so that the director “might assure himself that the two works were equivalent”. It would have been better to have gone to the National Gallery first, not only to see the triptych but to study its historical and technical dossiers, and those of the gallery’s absolutely secure Duccio Annunciation. Having bought the picture, all three “felt ‘ours’ was every bit as fine and in some respects more intimate and direct” than the triptych and was “a painting that represented the artist at the very height of his powers”. Two Duccio specialists, Deuchler and James Stubblebine, thought the NG triptych “Shop of Duccio: Simone Martini”.

Having thus bought very expensively without a trace of “buyer’s remorse”, other possible grounds for concern may have been overlooked. For example, Christie’s had won the right to conduct its private, three-museum sale by putting “a significantly higher valuation on the painting than anyone else – by multiples”, as Nicholas Hall, the international director of Christie’s Old Masters department, later told the New Yorker (Calvin Tomkins, “The Missing Madonna”, 11 July 2005). When Hall invited Christiansen (an old friend) to lunch to show him a recent transparency of the Stoclet Madonna, he was immediately smitten and proactive. As he later recalled: “‘Fantastic, how about the price?’ I asked. He told me. ‘OK,’ I said, ‘I will deal with that later,’ and then we finished our lunch.” (Danny Danziger, Museum – Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007.)

Had the Met officers opted to compare the under-drawing of the three works, as above, Fig. 7, before buying, they might have seen that on the quality of drawing one of the three was the other two’s inferior. If we think of the three images as a triptych, it is striking how much more fully and vividly realised the draperies and figures are as form in the two “wings”. Consider the left and centre under-drawing: in the outer image the drapery folds are not notionally indicated with lines that converge, as on the Met picture, but are realised, in anticipation, as autonomous three-dimensional folds and hollows that move over and around the implicit body within – one senses, for example, precisely where the unseen elbow is located, this being no “bag of washing”. The contour on the National Gallery Madonna’s outer edge is not depicted, as is the case in the Met picture, with a long un-lovely single continuous unbroken line of few deviations along which it is impossible to sense the elbow’s location. Rather, it is conceived and shown as a record of the points at which the forms and undulations of the cloth turn away from the viewer. Such differences of drawing speak of radically differing degrees of plastic/sculptural sensibility and comprehension. That on the left is greatly and decisively more sculptural, dynamically expressive, and plausible as a figure adjusting itself to support the weight of a child. Drawing has rightly been described as the probity of art and, as such, its study and evaluation must be considered one of the most pertinent and indispensable tools of critical analysis.

In the face of artistic weaknesses Christiansen blusters: “The drapery of the Virgin is astonishingly three-dimensional in the way it falls over the arm; it’s like a Roman sculpture.” All style judgements are relative: this is more, or less, or identical with, that. When drawing is weak, associated aspects often prove deficient. Viewing the triptych immediately after the Christie’s Duccio, Christiansen noted the former “struck a slightly different key than the picture we had been examining.” That difference, as the Met’s subsequent examinations disclosed, had a material basis. Ultramarine pigment was used in the triptych as opposed to the Met picture’s cheaper azurite. Moreover, the painted relief of the triptych’s ultramarine blue drapery was modelled not so much by progressive (and chromatically-debilitating – as Duveen had complained) dilution with white pigment, but by the addition of carbon black shading enriched by a red glaze – a tri-partite finish made with the best materials – and one that was emulated by Modestini on the background of the Salvator Mundi. Modestini has given two accounts of her actions. They both merit attention, because both are more detailed, and frank, than is commonly encountered in restoration reports.

REPLICATING HISTORICAL AUTHENTICITY TO PRODUCE A “DIFFERENT, ALTOGETHER MORE POWERFUL IMAGE”

Writing in a 2012 conservation report (see below), Modestini recalled:

“There were actually two stages of the current restoration. In 2008 when it went to London to be studied by several Leonardo experts, there was less retouching: I hadn’t replaced the glazes on the orb, finished the eyes, suppressed the pentimenti of the thumb and stole, and several other small details, but, chiefly the painting still had the mud-coloured modern background that was close in tone to the hair. Two years later I was troubled by the way the background encroached upon the head, trapping it in the same plane as the background. Having seen the richness of the well-preserved browns and blacks in the London Virgin of the Rocks”, and based on the fragments of black background which had not been covered up by the repainting, I suggested to the [then two] owners that it might be worthwhile to try to recover the original background and finish the incomplete restoration.

“I began to remove the overpaint mechanically under the microscope. Where it had been protected by the Verdigris [layer, that had been scraped off “at an unknown date and replaced by a mud-coloured background”], the original background was intact, and much of it survived under messily applied fill material. The difference between the original black and the modern brown was dramatic.

“The initial cleaning was promising especially where the Verdigris had preserved [because applied soon after?] the original layers. Unfortunately, in the upper parts of the background, the paint had been scraped down to the wood and in some cases to the wood itself. Whether or not I would have begun had I known, is a moot point. Since the putty and overpaint were quite thick I had no choice but to remove them completely. I repainted the large missing areas in the upper part of the painting with ivory black and a little cadmium light, followed by a glaze of rich warm brown, then more black and vermilion. Between stages I distressed and then retouched the new paint to make it look antique. The new colour freed the head, which had been trapped in the muddy background, so close in tone to the hair, and made a different, altogether more powerful image. At close range and under strong light the new background paint is obvious, but at only a slight remove it closely mimics the original.

“The retouching was done with time-tested materials.” Viz: “with dry pigments bound with PVA AYAB. Translucent water colours, mainly ivory black and raw siena, were used for final glazes and to draw [fake age] cracks. For the black background both AYAB and Maimeri Colori per restauro were used. Except for the background, I mainly used treble 0 sable watercolor brushes in a series of vertical passes until the area of loss matched the surrounding material.”

RESTORATIONS BEGET RESTORATIONS

In her 2018 memoir, Masterpieces, Modestini recalled:

“When the painting returned [in 2008 from London] to New York, I saw it on many occasions and became increasingly dissatisfied with my hastily concluded restoration. This is inevitable, especially when the painting is a damaged work by a great artist. Although I was aware of this, I itched to have it back. Leonardo’s [sic] Virgin of the Rocks in London had just been cleaned, and I made an appointment to see it. It is relatively well-preserved and, at that time, the only Leonardo that was not encumbered with centuries-old, thick, yellow, decayed coats of varnish like the Mona Lisa and the St John the Baptist in the Louvre. When I saw it, I was struck by the richness and depth of Leonardo’s blacks and realized that the principal problem of the Salvator Mundi was that the image was imprisoned by the nineteenth-century, sludge-colored repaint of the background. In a few areas, mostly around the contours of the figure, the original deep black was visible, and I knew from one [!] of the cross sections that Leonardo had paid great attention to it, building it up with four layers consisting of two different blacks, and black mixed with vermilion. I explained this to Robert [Simon], who immediately understood.

“For retouching [aka repainting] I use high-quality dry pigments, and I had a number of different blacks to work with – bone black, which Leonardo was known to favor, and a sixty-year-old tin of finely ground, pure ivory black that I had inherited from Mario [Modestini], which is no longer made. I had never used it but suddenly remembered Mario talking about how special it was…After I had polished and distressed my new paint, the result was reasonably satisfactory, at least when compared to the previous iteration. The difference it made to the painting was astounding: the great head surged forward and became much more powerful. I allowed myself to think that the decision I had taken was not so terrible after all. With the figure now more prominent and three-dimensional, some minor areas of loss and wear began to clamor for attention. This sequence is an essential part of the process of restoring a damaged painting.

“Luke Syson, the curator of the National Gallery’s Leonardo exhibition, asked to borrow the painting, notwithstanding some cavilling from colleagues about exhibiting a work that was on the market…”

Where Modestini was licensed by the owners to act as a painter-in-arms with Leonardo, Christiansen downplayed the triptych’s greater richness of effects and materials by deeming it “Obviously…a deluxe object” made for a rich client as opposed to “the first owner of the Metropolitan’s [who] was also someone of wealth or social standing”. If the force of that distinction is not immediately apparent, there are other, no less telling, differences where cost is immaterial: the triptych’s under-drawing was made with a quill pen – the instrument said to be Duccio’s favourite. That of the Met painting was made with brush… Making repeated allowances for atypical traits is never reassuring. Modestini has disclosed that although the all-blue draperies of the disappeared ex-Cook Collection Salvator Mundi are of ultramarine, it is of low grade – as was the panel on which it was painted. (In 2019 Simon reported that the ultramarine had not undergone full purification and had retained large particles of quartz.) It has been claimed, as described below, that by some technical quirk, whenever the restored Salvator Mundi is re-varnished, the forms of the true left shoulder draperies expand or contract in numbers (see Fig. 8, below) precisely as occurred between 2011 when the picture was at the National Gallery, and 2017, when it was on offer at Christie’s.

ART WORLD CLOAK AND DAGGER

Above, Fig. 8: Left, top, and detail below left, the Salvator Mundi when exhibited at the National Gallery in 2011-12 as a long-lost autograph Leonardo painted prototype Salvator Mundi; right, top, and detail below right, the (disappeared) Salvator Mundi when offered in 2017 at Christie’s, New York, as a long-lost autograph Leonardo painted prototype Salvator Mundi with “an unusually strong consensus”.

In her 2018 memoir, Masterpieces, Modestini describes how the painting was brought to her place of work at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts’ Conservation Center in 2017:

“…I called [the Sandy Heller Group] immediately and was told the Salvator Mundi would be arriving in New York shortly and I was not to inform anyone. On Wednesday evening, July 19, the painting was delivered to the Conservation Center under guard and in great secrecy and was stored in the vault.”

Why? Does Christie’s lack safe storage facilities? Modestini seems to have made preparations for the picture to be sent on its whistle-stop global promotional tour even though she does not approve of such risks being taken: “I had some concerns…A museum would not have agreed to this but the painting was on the market, and I realized that it was essential that prospective buyers in far-flung locations could examine it in person.” With a colleague, she “supervised the reframing and packing at Christie’s.” Why, and on whose authority was it sent to an academic institution, under guard and in great secrecy before being dispatched on its global tour? And, what happened to the painting between being stored in the Conservation Center’s vault and its being prepared for that world tour by Modestini, at Christie’s, New York? For Christie’s explanation of this episode, see Dalya Alberge’s “Auctioneers Christie’s admit Leonardo Da Vinci painting which became world’s most expensive artwork when it sold for £340m has been retouched in last five years”. The Christie’s spokeswoman said to Alberge: “Prior to its presentation for sale at Christie’s, Modestini partially cleaned the passage of paint in the shoulder and the dark streaks disappeared”. So, to disappearing books and catalogues, and paintings, must be added disappearing features within a disappeared painting. It is a pity that Modestini, while describing the manner in which the Salvator Mundi painting returned to her safe-keeping in NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts, drew a veil over her own actions therein when writing her 2018 memoir Masterpieces. There are so many questions now dangling: “Why did a small painting that was cleaned in a day and had then undergone several campaigns of restoration over six-years between 2005 and 2011, receive further, covert, treatment just six years later? When Modestini first worked on the painting its varnish was “sticky”. Was it sticky once-more when sold for nearly half a billion dollars in 2017? The disappearances within the painting are one concern. Another is the differences between the picture’s appearance in 2011 when launched at the National Gallery as by Leonardo and its appearance in 2017 when offered to the world in a different guise at Christie’s, New York, as a National Gallery-endorsed miraculously discovered and recovered Leonardo. Those unexplained differences might seem encapsulated in our early split-halves composite image of Christ’s face (as shown below at Fig. 10) where there is a mismatch between the two halves. This Christ has had two faces in our times, the later one with more colour in the cheeks and more focussed eyes. Clearly, both cannot be taken as recovered authentic faces, so the real and urgent question is: Should either of them ever have been presented as Leonardo’s own work?

Above, Fig. 9: Top, left, the Salvator Mundi, c. 1913, when in the Cook Collection; top right, the Salvator Mundi as catalogued by the St Charles Gallery, New Orleans, as “After Leonardo da Vinci” for the April 9-10 2005 sale. Above, left, the Salvator Mundi as taken to the restorer, Dianne Modestini in April 2005 (with a still sticky varnish); right, the picture in May 2008 when about to be taken by Robert Simon (as above) to the National Gallery for a (confidential) examination by a small and select group of Leonardo scholars, after the first stage (as described above) of Modestini’s restorations .

Above, Fig. 10: Left, the ex-Cook Collection Salvator Mundi face, as exhibited in 2011 at the National Gallery; right, the ex-Cook Collection Salvator Mundi face, as offered at Christie’s, New York, in 2017.

A POST HOC SALVATOR MUNDI LITERATURE

As will be examined in Part II, our challenges to the perpetually mutating and “improving” Salvator Mundi were made: a) within days of its November 2011 launch at the National Gallery; b) nearly a month before Christie’s November 2017 sale; c) five days before Christie’s 2017 sale; d) the day before Christie’s sale; and, subsequently, e) in nearly a score of posts – see Endnote below. The undisclosed identity of the original owners was only uncovered in September 2018 (by The Washington Post). Until that date and disclosure, the true purchase price in 2005 was exaggerated ten-fold by both the original owners and the painting’s advocates -and therefore in all press reports over a thirteen-year period. The publication of researches that had been promised in 2011 by the owners and by the National Gallery did not occur until 2019 and, even then, it was not in full.

Four recently published books now comprise a small, belated literature on the rise and demise of the long-unloved Leonardo School work that morphed into the world’s most expensive and least visible picture. They were: Living With Leonardo – Fifty Years of Sanity and Insanity in the Art World and Beyond, by Professor Martin Kemp, London, 2018; Masterpieces (“Based on a manuscript by Mario Modestini” and with informative chapters on: the Salvator Mundi; Cleaning Controversies; and, Misattributions, Studio Replicas and Repainted Originals) by Dianne Dwyer Modestini, Italy, 2018; The Last Leonardo – The Secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting, by Ben Lewis, London, 2019; and, Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi & The Collecting of Leonardo in the Stuart Courts, by Margaret Dalivalle, Martin Kemp, & Robert B. Simon, Oxford, 2019.

Until those four works appeared, the literature consisted of the catalogue entry “Christ as Salvator Mundi, about 1499 onwards” in the National Gallery’s 2011-12 Leonardo exhibition catalogue by its curator, Luke Syson; and, Dianne Modestini’s account of the Salvator Mundi’s restoration and art historical credentials that was delivered in January 2012 at a National Gallery conference and published in 2014 as “The Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci rediscovered History technique and condition” in Leonardo da Vinci’s Technical Practice, Paintings, Drawings and Influence, Ed. Michel Menu, Paris. Both Syson’s and Modestini’s accounts acknowledged indebtedness to the private researches of one of the picture’s owners, the New York dealer, Robert Simon.

Specifically, Syson declared in 2011: “This discussion anticipates the more detailed publication of this picture by Robert Simon and others. I am grateful to Robert Simon for making available his research and that of Dianne Dwyer Modestini, Nica Gutman Rieppi and, (for the picture’s provenance) Margaret Dalivalle, all to be published in a forthcoming book.” In 2014 Modestini acknowledged having benefited from “…the knowledge and good eyes of Robert Simon with whom I worked closely on the restoration for six years and who generously shared with me the results of his research for this paper. I am especially indebted to Nica Gutman Rieppi, Associate Conservator in the Kress Program at the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, who took the samples, made the cross-sections and coordinated the analytic work which was carried out with great thoroughness, precision and dedication by Beth Price and Kenneth Sunderland, research scientists at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the help of Dr Thomas J. Tague of Broker, Billerica, Massachusetts who carried out the ATR FTIR analysis of the sizing.”

That research had still not been published in 2013 when the picture was sold privately and under (Simon has revealed) a non-disclosure agreement through Sotheby’s for $80 million. The research had not been published by 2017, when Alan Wintermute of Christie’s wrote (in “Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi”, one among other endorsing/bolstering essays by Frances Russell, Dianne Modestini, David Franklin and David Ekserdjian, in the auction house’s 2017 Salvator Mundi book/catalogue): “The reasons for the unusually uniform scholarly consensus that the painting is an autograph work by Leonardo are several… The present painting, although only recently discovered, has already been extensively studied, with a remarkable campaign of research lead by Dr. Robert Simon. The most insightful and broad-ranging examination of the painting was presented by Luke Syson in the 2011 catalogue of the Leonardo exhibition in London. The following discussion depends heavily on Dr. Syson’s entry, which itself drew on the unpublished research made available to him by Robert Simon, Dianne Dwyer Modestini, Nica Gutman Rieppi, Martin Kemp and, for the picture’s provenance, Margaret Dalivalle…” Having thus drawn the scholarly research wagons around the picture (and the auction house) Wintermute disclosed that the still-unpublished researches by Dalivalle, Kemp and Simon would not be published until 2018 – which was to say, a full seven years after the painting had been declared and exhibited as a Leonardo, at the National Gallery. In the event, and even with its pared-down authorship (see below), the book would be further delayed until 2019, by which date the mystery over the subsequently disappeared picture’s ownership and whereabouts had deepened yet further.

The Simon Researches had originally been earmarked for a book of essays to be published by Yale University Press and sold at the National Gallery’s “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan” exhibition. That book proved to be the first on this Salvator Mundi picture that failed to materialise. Reasons for its demise were volunteered by Professor Martin Kemp in his Living with Leonardo:

“Robert [Simon] thought it was a good idea to publish a book of essays by various authors, including Margaret Dalivalle and myself. Yale University Press, which does not normally publish monographs on single paintings, was signed up as publisher. I was happy to go along with this, while expressing reservations about a volume with multiple authors being finished on time. Academics are notably adept at missing deadlines, and I was unconvinced that all the authors actually had anything new to say… In the event the complete book was not delivered and, deprived of the rationale of selling a good number of books at the time of the show, Yale withdrew.”

A GOOD SHEPHERD, AN UTTERLY FANTASTIC CONSENSUS AND A DONE-DEAL

The long-promised book of essays emerged in 2019 (through Oxford University Press) as the Dalivalle/Kemp/Simon compilation – but without a proper technical account of the picture’s campaigns of restoration and technical examination. Simon presents the book as “the first to treat the subject monographically” and “the first complete analysis of this essential addition to Leonardo’s oeuvre”. The authors liken their authorially-trimmed exercise to a three-act opera with each act constituting an in-depth facet of the story while “necessarily bypassing many ancillary issues”. The first act is said to chronicle the painting’s “journey from anonymity in America, with no provenance and in severely compromised condition, to its public revelation as a work by Leonardo at the exhibition in London. The six-year process of research and conservation is related by Robert Simon, who shepherded the Salvator Mundi on this remarkable journey…” When Simon took the painting to London in May 2008 (Fig. 9, above) to show it to a select group of Leonardo scholars assembled at the National Gallery, he made a good and lasting impression on Martin Kemp who, in his 2018 memoir, underscored Simon’s decisive role in the institutionally and ethically problematic attribution upgrade:

…A general discussion followed. Robert Simon, the custodian of the picture (whom I later learned was its co-owner), outlined something of its history and its restoration. He seemed sincere, straightforward and judiciously restrained, as proved to be the case in all our subsequent contacts. We looked, we talked and we looked again. It was a remarkable occasion. By the time I left, I was determined to research every aspect of the Salvator Mundi. It seemed at first sight to resonate deeply with key aspects of Leonardo’s science of art, and his views of the role of God in the cosmos.

I remained in touch with Robert Simon who is strongly committed to scholarly research. I learned that the eloquent painting we had viewed was in fact one of the known versions of the Salvator Mundi, formerly in the Cook Collection – previously heavily overpainted, it had now been cleaned and retouched. It had never before received serious attention; we had paid only passing attention to the black and white photograph of it [Fig. 6] that had occasionally been used as an illustration…

All of the witnesses in the gallery’s conservation studio were sworn to confidentiality [by whom?] and the painting travelled back to New York with Robert. It was becoming ‘a Leonardo’ […and later: ‘Robert quietly introduced the Salvator Mundi to a judicious selection of experts, who – remarkably, given the usual leakiness of the art world – kept their counsel for three years. By the time the painting emerged in public there was a critical mass of influential voices who would speak in the painting’s favour.’]

…Was it on the market? Would exhibiting it mean that the National Gallery was tacitly involved in a huge act of commercial promotion? It seemed highly likely that it was also ‘in the trade’. All I knew at this stage was that it was being represented by Robert Simon. He told me that it was in the hands of a ‘good owner’ who intended to do the right thing by it, and I did not enquire further. I was keen to consider the painting in its own right, not in relation to ownership. I speculated, of course, that Robert might have a financial interest, perhaps a share in its ownership, and I assumed he was gaining some kind of legitimate income from his work on the picture’s behalf…

It was, however, a great surprise to find that the Salvator was to be sold at Christie’s in New York on 15 November 2017 in a mega-auction of celebrity works of art from the modern era. The auctioneers sent the painting on a glamorous marketing tour of Hong Kong, San Francisco and London. I was approached by the auctioneers to confirm my research and agreed to record a video interview to combat the misinformation appearing in the press – providing I was not drawn into the actual sale process.”

TIGHT LIPS

The anonymity of which Simon spoke was a self-imposed, prolonged tactical ploy. In 2013, the three art dealing co-owners, Alexander Parish, Robert Simon and Warren Adelson (who in 2010 bought a one-third share for $10 million, thereby giving Simon and Parish a ten-thousand-fold return in five years on their $1,000 purchase), realised that because it was known within the opaque but gossipy art trade that the picture was being offered to museums, it would be too risky to put it to public auction: “there’s not a deader-in-the-water [thing] than a picture which you put up for auction and which then bombs”, Parish told Ben Lewis: “Supposing we had put a pretty reasonable price on the Salvator Mundi – let’s say we put a $100 million reserve on it – and it tanked, where do you go from there? Absolutely dead.”

The unidentified consortium of owners had other needs for opacity. Again, Parish to Lewis: “We’re a little opaque as to the date and location of acquisition. We purposefully have never corroborated Louisiana as the place where we bought it. And I’m not going to now. Why? Because some grandson of whoever these people are who sold it is going to decide, ‘Oh, that’s my $450 million picture. Who can I sue?’” Parish identified a third danger in professional transparency: “Part of the reason for the secrecy was the mechanics, if you will, that Bob [Simon] had to employ to get the utterly fantastic consensus that he compiled. Because in academic realms, if A says yes, B’s going to say no, just to be a dick. It’s not unheard of that certain experts are contrarian just because an opposing expert has said something else.” That last may sometimes occur but witnessing such spats enables the scholarly and art market communities to gauge the relative strengths of competing or conflicted argument and evidence. In art attributions and art restorations, as in law and in politics, things work better when propositions, expertise and evidence are subject to open appraisal and interrogation. Syson’s exclusion from the May 2008 National Gallery examination of the two leading Leonardo specialists most likely to respond negatively to the picture drew Lewis’s attention and is discussed below. The National Gallery’s preference for a select group of experts was disclosed by Kemp in 2018 when he published his March 2008 invitation to the event from the National Gallery’s new director, Nicholas Penny:

I would like to invite you to examine a damaged old painting of Christ as Salvator Mundi which is in private hands in New York. Now it has been cleaned, Luke Syson and I, together with our colleagues in both painting and drawings in the Met, are convinced that it is Leonardo’s original version, although some of us consider that there may be [parts] which are by the workshop. We hope to have the painting in the National Gallery sometime later March or in April so that it can be examined next to our version of the Virgin of the Rocks. The best-preserved passages in the Salvator Mundi are very similar to parts of the latter painting. Would you be free to come to London at any time in this period? We are only inviting two or three scholars.”

TWO OF A KIND

Note: the claimed similarities between the two supposed autograph Leonardo pictures would once have weighed heavily against the Salvator Mundi. A former director of the National Gallery and a Leonardo specialist, Kenneth Clark, had said of the gallery’s version of the Virgin of the Rocks “A pupil did the main work of drawing and modelling, and before his paint was dry, Leonardo put in the finishing touches. Most of these have been removed from the Virgin’s face but remain in the angel’s, where perhaps they were always more numerous” – see “The National Gallery’s £1.5 Billion Leonardo Restoration”. As for claims of the Cook Salvator Mundi being a long-lost prototype-for-all-other-versions, Clark judged it “one of the versions ‘less close to the [presumed] original’”. He attended the 1958 sale at Sotheby’s where this very Salvator Mundi version limped away for £45 to the United States, and hence, eventually, to Louisiana in 2005, where it would draw just two bids and fetch its $1,000 plus $175 charges – thus, below the picture’s low estimate of $1,200. Even with the overheads of a castle to find, Clark had money to spend on art. As he reported to Bernard Berenson: “In a fit of madness I even bought some pictures at the sale of the remnants of the Cook Collection, including a very beautiful Alonso Cano of Tobias and the Angel, and a Giulio Romano; also a splendid Granet. They were sold for the price of a small Cézanne pencil drawing…” (Letter, 14 July 1958, in My dear B. B. The Letters of Bernard Berenson and Kenneth Clark, 1925-1959, ed. Robert Cumming, Yale University Press, New Haven and London.)

THE NATIONAL GALLERY’S SHOW-CASING WITH EXTRA OOMPH

Four months before its 2011-12 Leonardo exhibition the National Gallery defended its decision to include the undocumented privately-owned painting as “an important opportunity to test this new attribution”. Had the painting been included on precisely those terms and shown when cleaned and not-yet restored few would have complained at an opportunity to see a recently discovered version of the Leonardo school Salvator Mundi. That did not happen. It did not happen because Penny had become an instant partisan of the proposed upgrade and was advising Simon on building a necessary consensus of scholarly support for the picture when, all the while, the picture was undergoing transforming campaigns of restoration in accordance with Simon’s (anthropomorphising) conviction that the picture should be allowed to “live once again as a work of art”. Instead of a disinterested display of the work “as-was” after cleaning and before restoration, the Gallery exhibited it after multiple bouts of restoration, the second of which was made in declared emulation of the National Gallery’s own (questionable) version of The Virgin of the Rocks, as a miraculously recovered and, supposedly “long-lost” Leonardo. Begging a monumentally large question of attribution in this manner was a plain abuse of institutional authority and – given the picture’s fanciful and preposterously bloated provenance – a gross misrepresentation of the historical record to boot.

When Ben Lewis asked Luke Syson why the work had been catalogued unequivocally as a Leonardo, he replied: “I catalogued it more firmly in the exhibition as a Leonardo because my feeling at that point was that I was making a proposal and I could make it cautiously or with some degree of scholarly oomph. It is important not to float an idea without saying where you yourself stand on it.” Syson was standing on a house of (double-borrowed) cards. When the exhibition opened on 9 November 2011 our first objection was published within days – see Figs. 11 and 12 below.

Above, Fig. 11: Left, a detail of 1650 etched copy by Wenceslaus Hollar of a painting then attributed to Leonardo that was being claimed to be a record of the Salvator Mundi version in the National Gallery; right, ArtWatch UK letters contesting the attribution on the absence within the painting of optical features recorded by Hollar.

Above, Fig. 12: Left, a detail of the Salvator Mundi as it was immediately before its disappearance in 2017; right, top, AWUK diagrams highlighting many optical differences between the Hollar copy and the painting exhibited at the National Gallery.

SCHOLARLY RESPONSES TO THE NATIONAL GALLERY’S LEONARDO ATTRIBUTION

In the event, the Leonardo attribution was publicly challenged by at least four scholars in reviews of the 2011-12 National Gallery exhibition. Carmen Bambach, of the Metropolitan Museum and author of the major 2019 four-volumes Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered, rejected the Leonardo attribution in a 2012 Apollo review of the National Gallery exhibition and gave the painting to Leonardo’s student Boltraffio (with possible modifying touches by Leonardo). Frank Zöllner of Leipzig University and author of the Leonardo catalogue raisonné, Leonardo da Vinci – The Complete Paintings (Bibliotheca Universalis) had said ahead of the exhibition that the proportions of the nose were “too long” for such a perfectionist as Leonardo and were more likely to have been painted by a talented follower. When the late husband of the restorer, Mario Modestini, first saw the Salvator Mundi he thought it by a very great artist a generation after Leonardo.

Later, in the revised 2017 edition of his book, Zöllner said of the ex-Cook Salvator Mundi that while it surpasses the other known versions in terms of quality, it: “also exhibits a number of weaknesses. The flesh tones of the blessing hand, for example, appear pallid and waxen, as in a number of workshop paintings. Christ’s ringlets also seem to me too schematic in their execution [Fig. 6, above], the larger drapery folds too undifferentiated, especially on the right-hand side [Fig. 8, above]. They do not begin to bear comparison with the Mona Lisa, for example. It is therefore not surprising that a number of reviewers of the London Leonardo exhibition initially adopted a sceptical stance (Bambach 2012; Hope 2012; Robertson 2012; Zöllner 2012). In view of the arguments put forward to date and the above-mentioned weaknesses, we might sooner see the Salvator Mundi as a high-quality product of Leonardo’s workshop, painted only after 1507, on whose execution Leonardo was substantially involved. It will probably only be possible to arrive at a more informed verdict on this question after the results of the painting’s technical analyses have been published in full (Dalivalle/Kemp/Simon 2017).”

As seen, the Dalivalle/Kemp/Simon account did not materialise until 2019. Recently, Professor Charles Hope, former director of the Warburg Institute, pinned the scholarly nub in the London Review of Books (“A Peece of Christ”):

“Many of those who specialise in making such attributions have great confidence in their own judgment, even when this has proved fallible, and they tend to discount or give a tendentious spin to documentary evidence and information about provenance that does not fit with their theories.”

In 2017, Christie’s, New York, cited fifteen scholars as supporters of the Salvator Mundi’s Leonardo ascription. They were:

Mina Gregori, Nicholas Penny, Dianne Dwyer Modestini, Carmen Bambach, Andrea Bayer, Keith Christiansen, Everett Fahy, Michael Gallagher – the Met’s head of picture restoration, David Allan Brown, Maria Teresa Fiorio, Martin Kemp, Pietro C. Marani, Luke Syson, David Ekserdjian and Vincent Delieuvin.

One, Carmen Bambach, as seen above, had rejected the ascription in 2011. As also seen above, another, Delieuvin, has now downgraded the picture to a school work. Crucially, none had supported the attribution in a scholarly publication or forum, and several would disavow their inclusion in this list. When Lewis spoke to the select and confidential group of five Leonardo scholars invited to see the Salvator Mundi at the National Gallery (Pietro Marani, Maria Teresa Fiorio, Carmen Bambach, David Alan Brown and Martin Kemp), he discovered that only two had committed to a Leonardo attribution; two had declined to express an opinion; and one had rejected it.

Moreover, Lewis noted two striking omissions from the event that would likely have tipped the balance. One was our colleague, Jacques Franck, a Leonardo expert who had advised Syson on the restoration of the National Gallery’s version of the Virgin of the Rocks – much as he had done at the Louvre with its Leonardo restorations. Like others, Franck identifies two authorial hands in the Salvator Mundi picture, but he sees no participation by Leonardo in the painting – see his “Further thoughts about the ex-Cook Collection Salvator Mundi” and our “The Louvre Museum’s bizarre charge of ‘fake information’ on the $450 million Salvator Mundi”.

The second was Frank Zöllner, who then had recently written within his catalogue raisonné of Leonardo’s paintings: “In conclusion, mention must be made of the increasing attempts, above all in recent years, to attribute second- and third-class paintings to Leonardo’s hand. In this context it should be noted that the catalogue of paintings presented here is definitive. While there may be works circulating in the fine art trade that stem from Leonardo’s pupils, the likelihood of an original by the master himself ever making a new appearance is extremely small.”

Syson admitted to Lewis that Zöllner’s omission had been a mistake but justified Franck’s exclusion on the grounds that as a trained painter he was “too far outside the world of academic and institutional art history to be invited in to this project”.

Michael Daley, Director, 12 (& 24) August 2020

In Part II, we outline reasons why it might sometimes be of assistance to scholars and curators to heed the views of artists.

Endnote: ArtWatch UK Posts on the Salvator Mundi:

14 November 2017, “Problems With the New York Leonardo Salvator Mundi, Part I: Provenance and Presentation”
1 January 2018, “The $450m New York Leonardo Salvator Mundi, Part II: It Restores, It Sells, Therefore It Is”
20 February 2018, “A Day in the Life of the New Louvre Abu Dhabi Annexe’s Pricey New Leonardo Salvator Mundi”
27 February 2018, “Nouveau Riche? Welcome to the Club!”
11 March 2018, “In Their Own Words: No. 3 – The Reception of the First Version of the Leonardo Salvator Mundi”
29 March 2018, “Startling Disclosures on the Re-re-restored Leonardo Salvator Mundi”
10 April 2018, “The Leonardo Salvator Mundi Saga: Three Developments”
9 August 2018, “Leonardo Scholar Challenges Attribution of $450m Painting”
18 September 2019, “How the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi became a Leonardo-from-Nowhere”
11 October 2018, “Two Developments in the No-Show Louvre Abu Dhabi Leonardo Salvator Mundi Saga”
12 November 2018, “The Pear-Shaped Salvator Mundi”
6 February 2019, “The Leonardo Salvator Mundi Part I: Not ‘Pear-Shaped’ – ‘Dead-in-the Water’”
22 February 2019, “The Louvre Museum’s Bizarre Charge of ‘Fake Information on the $450 million Salvator Mundi’”
4 July 2019, “Salvator Grumpi – updated”
20 September 2019, “Forthcoming events: The Ben Lewis Salvator Mundi Lecture and the new ArtWatch UK Journal”
28 October 2019, “The non-appearing, disappeared, $450million, now officially not-Leonardo, Salvator Mundi”
15 November 2019, “Books on No-Hope Art Attributions”
5 & 11 February 2020, “The Saviour and a Stealth-Attribution”
3 August 2020, “Further thoughts about the ex-Cook Collection Salvator Mundi”


Further thoughts about the ex-Cook Collection Salvator Mundi*

The Leonardo Salvator Mundi controversy turns on which artist’s hand is – or which artists’ hands are – present on the painting. Many scholars agree that more than one hand is present. Here, it is demonstrated that while two hands are present, neither belongs to Leonardo. [M.D.]

Jacques Franck, an art historian and a painter trained in Old Master techniques, was a curator/exhibitor in the Uffizi Gallery’s exhibition “La Mente di Leonardo” (2006) and served on the International scientific committee advising the restoration of Leonardo’s St Anne in the Louvre (2010-2012), where he also advised the restoration of Leonardo’s Belle Ferronnière (2014-2015) and that of Leonardo’s St John- the- Baptist (2016). A regular contributor to scientific journals, he is completing a research thesis on Leonardo’s sfumato technique at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris.

It is commonly believed in the art market that the more you argue and produce literature to defend a work’s authenticity, the less authentic it probably is. The Mona Lisa does not need any support to impose its genuineness as a heavenly Leonardo masterpiece and as such nobody has ever doubted it through the centuries, for it would appear nonsensical to any reasonable art historian. This is far from being the case with the Cook/New York version of the Leonardesque Salvator Mundi (Fig. 1, below) about which doubts have arisen all over the planet shortly after its first appearance as a newly-born Leonardo in London in 2011 at the National Gallery. Suspicion has reached such a point recently, that the work’s earliest supporters, Martin Kemp, Margaret Dalivalle and Robert Simon considered it necessary to publish in late 2019 a substantial three-part essay in defence of the painting – Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi & The Collecting of Leonardo in the Stuart Courts – that had originally been promised 2011. The following lines are by no means an attempt to discuss any of the latter authors’ positions, but are just an afterthought about what struck me most in the controversial panel when I first saw it several years ago. Given the existence of two drapery studies in Leonardo’s hand, kept at the Royal Library in Windsor Castle (Figs. 2 and 3, below) and close to the Leonardesque sequence of Salvator Mundi, no critic, among those less convinced of the master’s effective contribution to the actual making of the ex-Cook/New York Salvator Mundi has gone as far as doubting it completely. This must however be envisaged on serious material grounds and it would mean, as we shall see, a step forward in understanding studio practice in the master’s bottega. Besides the firm attribution to Leonardo himself by Kemp and others, three authors’ names have been suggested until now: those of Luini, by Matthew Landrus; Boltraffio, by Carmen Bambach; and Salai by Franck. Yet, except myself – on further thinking – none of the latter experts exclude, even as a minor share, the presence of Leonardo’s brushwork in various details of the composition. Consideration of these very different views, although seemingly paradoxical, might in part help solve the enigma concerning the organisation and mode of functioning of Leonardo’s studio.

Above, Fig. 1: Workshop of Leonardo da Vinci (Salai with the assistance of G. A. Boltraffio or B. Luini?), Christ as Salvator Mundi, c. 1506/8-1513, oil on wood panel, 65. 5 x 45.1 cm (private collection).

Above, Fig. 2: Leonardo da Vinci, Drapery study, c. 1506/8-1510, red chalk on prepared paper, 22 x 13.9 cm, Windsor Castle, Royal Library n° 12524.

Fig. 3: Leonardo da Vinci, Drapery studies, c. 1506/8-1510, red chalk on paper, 16.4 x 15.8 cm, Windsor Castle, Royal Library n° 12525.

Above, Fig. 4: Pietro da Novellara, Letter of 3rd April 1501 to Isabella d’Este, marchioness of Mantua, Mantua, Archivio di Stato.

Above, Fig. 5: Pietro da Novellara, Letter of 14th April 1501 to Isabella d’Este, marchioness of Mantua, New York, private collection.

Above, Fig. 6: Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of Isabella d’Este, 1500, black chalk, red chalk and ochre chalk on paper, 61.1 x 46.5 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre.

The situation can be summed up as follows: we know from two letters (Figs. 4 and 5, above) sent on 3 and 14 April 1501 by Pietro da Novellara, Isabella d’Este’s emissary in Florence, that Leonardo was overworked in those days, being involved in many projects while committed to the French King and his Court. Nevertheless, now and again the master – as is customary in art studios at all times – would retouch his assistant’s copies (or variants) after his works. Also, Salai, then twenty-one, appears to have become someone essential, holding a position of trust in the studio’s organisation (he was, for instance, instrumental in Novellara’s meeting with Leonardo). At this stage, he might well have taken over some commissions from Leonardo who, as we know, could not cope with the lesser ones not from the leading political powers – no painted portrait of Isabella or pictures meant for sacred purposes (i. e. any specific commission for an altarpiece) followed Leonardo’s drawn portrait of her (Fig. 6, above). Whatever the case, when comparing the infrared reflectograms of the New York Salvator Mundi and of Salai’s Head of Christ in the Ambrosiana (two works that bear numerous distinct material and aesthetic similarities that are strange to Leonardo’s own style and technique), evidence that Salai’s contribution to the New York panel was crucial cannot be discarded: the latter picture’s preliminary sketching out technique is without any doubt close to Salai’s own very recognizable practice, as observed in infrared light in his Head of Christ and other attributed works. The rarity of such a resemblance cannot be considered coincidental with paintings produced by one and the same studio (Figs. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15, below).

Above, Fig. 7: Salai, Head of Christ, 1511, oil on wood panel, 55 x 37. 5 cm, Milan, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana. Salai’s Head of Christ (obviously deriving from a workshop Salvator Mundi prototype) testifies to what Christ’s face in the Cook/New York version of Salvator Mundi, now greatly damaged, including the eyes, probably looked like at the outset. The staring eyes with a ‘metaphysical’ expression were necessarily quite different when the now missing dark brown pigments forming the iris were still unimpaired.

Above, Fig. 8: Infrared scan of Salai’s Head of Christ. The infrared image of the panel reveals the underlying heavy, systematic and unmodelled dark contours outlining the shape of the head down to the shoulders and that of the face and neck.

Above, Fig. 9: Infrared scan of the New York Salvator Mundi (a document of September 2007 that was not released on Dianne Modestini’s website, salvatormundirevisited.com, before 14 August 2020 (10 days after the present post’s release): the only IR scan reproduced there until then, still shown to date, was a later one made of the picture during the restoration process when the background was already repainted, hence the dark, blocked image in that section). Better preserved than the other zones of the composition, the oversimplified, thick and sharp outlining of the head (see upper right and top) compares well what is observed in Fig. 8, above: the sketching out work seems in the same hand. See also Fig. 11, below.

Above, Fig. 10: Infrared scan of the New York Salvator Mundi (detail of head).

Above, Fig. 11: Ultraviolet photograph of the New York Salvator Mundi (before restoration). Despite the heavy damage and paint losses, the thick outlining of the head, face and neck is still visible here on the right hand-side of the panel. Also, the intense sfumato effect in the face and neck now seen in the restored panel doesn’t appear in ultraviolet light. The recent conservation treatment seems to have introduced an inappropriate evanescence resembling Leonardo’s style of his late years. As revealed by UV light, this section’s modelling was in fact firmer and the shapes better defined, thus much more consistent with the Ganay version (Fig. 24, below).

Above, Fig. 12: Infrared reflectogram of Leonardo’s Saint Anne in the Louvre (detail). No heavy outlining appears in the underdrawing of the head of Leonardo’s Saint Anne in the Louvre. The contours and undermodelling are light and subtle.

Above, Fig. 13: Infrared reflectogram of Leonardo’s Saint John-the-Baptist in the Louvre. Strong dark shadowing defines here the shape of the face and that of the neck. Yet, its treatment is not systematic, just softly blended and evanescent, contrary to the sharpness seen in most parts of Figs. 8, 9, 10 and 11, above.

Above, Fig. 14: Attributed to Salai, Saint John-the-Baptist in a landscape, c. 1508-1515 (?), oil on wood panel, 73 x 50. 9 cm, Milan, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.

Above, Fig. 15: Infrared reflectogram of Salai’s Saint John-the-Baptist in a landscape in the Ambrosiana. Another work after Leonardo traditionally attributed to Salai. Compare Figs. 8, 9 and 10, above: Salai’s heavy and very dark sketching out does not match Leonardo’s grace and subtlety perceivable even in the preliminary graphic stages of his own works (Figs. 12 and 13, above). No thick dark contour outlines the top of the Saint’s head because the background is a very luminous one here.

However, taking into account Novellara’s testimony regarding Leonardo’s occasional retouchings of his assistant’s copies, and, at the same time the existence of original red chalk drapery studies in close relation with the Salvator Mundi workshop sequence it has been assumed, yet without further development, that Leonardo acted in the making of the best parts of the 2017 New York sale picture – specifically, in Christ’s face and blessing hand. Within a standard scholarly rationale, such a scenario might well be considered acceptable, but it cannot be so considered from an experimentally and artistically informed perspective. Effectively, when addressing the pragmatic aspects of painting that are necessarily implied when assessing which part of a given work is attributable to one hand or another, historical research cannot sensibly proceed without investigating, as much as possible, the practical context of Renaissance art studios, in which sphere scholars often underestimate the highly informative potentials of artistic technical issues. In this regard, enough technical evidence of practice is displayed in the New York Salvator Mundi visually to help us grasp some basic information. Firstly, taking Leonardo’s original productions (both paintings and drawings) as a means of comparison, nowhere can be seen in his oeuvre as many inconsistencies as displayed here. Among them, the oddly long and thin nose, the simplified mouth, the over shadowy neck (with hardly any correctly defined anatomical detail in this large dark section), the stiff blue drapery, the mechanical hair ringlets, the childishly conceived left hand, the flat orb, and, above all, despite their neat finish, the wrongly raised fingers in the blessing hand, a quite inconceivable depiction from a brilliant artist like Leonardo. Secondly, what matters most is not this amount of clumsily painted details, because, while clumsy, they are still globally right, and thus plausible with regard to real life.

Much more preoccupying are the raised fingers, one of which rotates clockwise, displaying to the onlooker a full view of its nail, a detail that would be practically out of sight here should the rules of perspective be dealt with properly (Fig. 16a and 16b, below). Any academic art student well knows no teacher worthy of the name will accept anatomical inconsistency: it represents vis-à-vis classic art practice a fundamental transgression, much like false notes or rhythmical inaccuracy in classical music and must be deleted. Good art teachers always want that their students’ faulty anatomical forms be redrawn correctly. With Leonardo, a leading teacher and one of the greatest anatomists ever, there is little chance that he might have painted the faulty fingers, and hardly any possibility, either, that this anomalous detail be validated in one of his studio’s productions without a good reason. If anyone were to doubt this, it must be reminded that the Florentine artist had studied the movement of the hand and fingers extensively as appears notably in the Codex Atlanticus (fol. 124 verso (45 v-a) and fol. 273 a recto (99 v-a); J. P. Richter’s anthology, §§ 353-354). In addition, it should be noted that in various Christ Blessing painted by the Leonardesques in the same period (except for the studio Salvator Mundi copies in which the blessing hand is faithful to that in the Cook version – see Fig. 17, below -, following the master’s exemplary lesson (Fig. 16b, below), the finger movement of the blessing hand is perfectly correct (Figs. 18 and 19, below). Therefore, it is far from proven that the master, contrary to his own well-established concepts and practice, could have suddenly changed his mind about the orthodox representation of a human hand in a single picture and nowhere else in his other paintings.

Above, Fig. 16: [a] The New York Salvator Mundi (detail of blessing hand); [b] Leonardo da Vinci, the Annunciation, Florence, Uffizi Gallery, detail of the Virgin’s proper left hand (mirrored image showing the young Leonardo’s perfect treatment of a hand gesture close to the New York Salvator Mundi’s blessing hand).

Above, Fig. 17: A sequence of 16th century variations after a Salvator Mundi prototype produced by Leonardo da Vinci’s main assistants c. 1506/8-1513. Compare the blessing hand in Figs. 1 and 16a, above.

Above, Fig. 18: Marco d’Oggiono, Young Christ Blessing, early 16th century, oil on wood panel, 35 x 26 cm, Rome, Borghese Gallery.

But if Leonardo had little to do with the New York Salvator Mundi beyond the Windsor sheets, who else might have improved the blessing hand to the point where its disputable anatomy and movement went unnoticed by many respectable scholars? The response lies explicitly in the fact that long before leaving Milan for several years in late 1499, Leonardo was in charge of an important studio and had to run it so as to have enough availability to face his very many and demanding activities as a military engineer, architect, cartographer, hydrologist, etc., and, at the same time, to honour various other commitments (in particular regarding the huge Sforza cavallo), or to organise festive Court celebrations inherent to Duke Ludovico Sforza’s service. It is therefore clear that his studio was assisted by excellent painters like Boltraffio, Marco d’Oggiono, Ambrogio De’ Predis and possibly other skilled, yet unrecorded artists, well before his return to Florence in 1500 after Ludovico’s fall. It must also be considered that, because he had the human and artistic means to perform such a challenge, in other words a well-trained team, Leonardo in person not only accepted but actually encouraged his best assistants to imitate his art to such a degree that no unspecialized onlooker would detect a difference. This was necessarily the case when the Cook version of the Salvator Mundi was painted (c. 1506/8-1513?), especially between 1506-1508 when, in Milan again, Leonardo was legally obliged to complete the Virgin of the Rocks, probably by then the London version (Fig. 20, below). In effect, rather than discern distinctly, one can guess in the altarpiece the presence of Boltraffio’s brush among other ones: the homogenous result of these intermingled contributions produces visually a global ‘Leonardo effect’ most difficult to dissect into recognizable individual styles. This aspect is particularly well illustrated with the Madonna Litta, to which Leonardo and Boltraffio had so tightly collaborated many years before, around 1490, that it is almost impossible to know who did what and where in the panel (Fig. 21, below). Later on, c. 1507/8-1513, another assistant and fully trained maestro, Bernardino Luini, whose presence in Leonardo’s bottega is not formally documented, just probable, would demonstrate his great ability to assimilate Leonardo’s style and technique. Many of his works betray this outstanding mimetic facility, in particular the handsome Christ Inv. 80 kept in the Ambrosiana in Milan (Fig. 22, below), whose blessing hand is strangely close to that seen in the Cook version of the Salvator Mundi, although Luini’s Christ’s correctly drawn limb doesn’t display the perspective and anatomical inconsistencies observable in the New York sale picture.

Above, Fig. 19: Giampietrino, Salvator Mundi, c. 1530 (?), tempera on wood panel, 50 x 39 cm, Moscow, Pushkin Museum.

Above, Fig. 20: Leonardo da Vinci and workshop, the Virgin of the Rocks, c. 1493/95-1508, oil on wood panel, 189.5 x 120 cm, London, National Gallery.

Above, Fig. 21: Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio under Leonardo’s supervision, the Madonna Litta, c. 1491-1495, tempera on wood panel transferred to canvas, 42 x 33 cm, St Petersburg, The State Hermitage. This small devotional painting has long been thought a genuine Leonardo until two preparatory studies in Boltraffio’s hand, completing Leonardo’s own project but paid little attention before 1990, were properly linked to the panel by D. A. Brown and M. T. Fiorio, thus proving that Boltraffio’s contribution was extensive. The particularly meticulous execution of the smooth and waxy sfumato in the flesh zones is very close here to the modelling encountered in the Salvator Mundi’s blessing hand (Cook/New York version, Fig. 16a, above).

Above, Fig. 22: Bernardino Luini, Christ Blessing, c. 1525 (?), tempera and oil on wood panel, 43 x 37cm, Milan, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.

Salai had of course never reached that level of accomplishment although by 1500-1510 he was probably in charge of the lesser commissions which Leonardo could not execute for want of time (some of the copies after the Louvre Saint Anne might testify to his specific involvement in the studio’s activity (Fig. 23, below). In my eyes it is doubtless that right at the outset Salai’s share in the New York Salvator Mundi prevailed and that Leonardo had practically none, because nothing that is absolutely typical of his own manner of making appears in the work. For example, on close examination it is obvious that the swirling folds in the sleeve of Christ’s blessing hand, a detail in which some specialists recognize Leonardo’s own hand, is in fact a very simplified motif taken from the far more complex Windsor drapery studies: any skilled collaborator could execute this passage with brio (Figs. 1, 2 and 3, above). However, given that the typology of the underlying layers in the New York panel so greatly resembles that encountered in Salai’s Head of Christ of 1511 in the Ambrosiana and – as noticed by me while completing this essay – in the Ganay version also (one, moreover, in which the design of the Saviour’s face strangely resembles Salai’s own Christ (Figs. 7, above, and 24, below), the debate can only waver over who handled the improvements and ‘finishings’ in the painting in attempt to make it as close to Leonardo as was the case with the Madonna Litta (albeit with Boltraffio’s involvement being far more important in the latter picture). Also, according to when the Cook version of the Salvator Mundi might be considered to have been painted, the name of Salai’s collaborator will emerge more conspicuously: Boltraffio is a likely candidate by, say, 1508, at the time he was perhaps helping Leonardo terminate the London Virgin of the Rocks, and Luini before Leonardo’s voyage to Rome in 1513. I would personally favour Boltraffio’s contribution because his assimilation of Leonardo’s style was perhaps even deeper than that of Luini – besides, he had known Salai for a long time and, for that reason, might have accepted to improve the blessing hand as a friendly move towards Leonardo’s protégé, hence the pentimento in the thumb. Boltraffio, for sure, was a great artist and no anatomical mistakes like that in the Salvator Mundi’s blessing hand are seen in his paintings. While the making process of the New York Salvator Mundi’s blessing hand and those in the Mona Lisa (Figs. 25 and 26, below) look roughly similar, the likeness is superficial and deceptive for a clear distinction exists both in terms of their technical executions and their visual effects. While the technique used in the Mona Lisa is much more evanescent and allusive to the tiniest detail, thus producing an impressive feeling of both real life and mystery, the careful, waxy modelling of the Salvator Mundi‘s blessing hand appears schoolish by comparison, with a touch of prettiness that is uncharacteristic of Leonardo’s usual vigour. Worthy of note, in the same zone, is the marked use of lead white as seen in the London Virgin of the Rocks, in which Boltraffio’s contribution can hardly be doubted (Fig. 27, below). The X-radiographs of both the New York Salvator Mundi and the Mona Lisa are most revealing about the different ways each artist followed to create the hands (Fig. 28 a and b, below).

Above, Fig. 23: Workshop of Leonardo da Vinci (Salai?), the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and a lamb, c. 1508-1515 ?, oil on wood panel, 104.8 x 75.5 cm, Florence, Uffizi Gallery.

Above, Fig. 24: The Ganay Salvator Mundi (Leonardo’s workshop), unrestored, viewed in daylight (detail of head). Compare the thickish dark uneven curved outlining of the head (not to confuse with the perfect arc traced just above) as seen in infrared light in the New York Salvator Mundi (Figs. 9 and 10, above) and in Salai’s Head of Christ in infrared light also (Fig. 8, above). The similarity of the facial features in Salai’s Head of Christ and in the Ganay Salvator Mundi (especially the noses with a same shape and curvature) is striking. The obvious artistic/technical interrelation of both pictures with the Cook version of the Salvator Mundi tends to prove that Salai, beyond his own Christ, had a crucial part in the two other works probably jointly with a different artist each time. A very likely scenario since, in addition, the X-radiographs of both Salai’s Head of Christ and that of the Ganay version display global similarities, thus increasing the presumption of the three paintings’ mutual relation.

Above, Fig. 25: The New York Salvator Mundi (detail of blessing hand as in Fig. 16a, above). The sfumato effect here is very analogous to that in the Madonna Litta (Fig. 21, above), in the London version of the Virgin of the Rocks (Figs. 27a and b, below), in which Boltraffio’s noteworthy contribution is presumed, and also, to some extent, in Luini’s Christ blessing (Fig. 22, above). The sweet chalky flesh tones are due to the substantial use of lead white, a pigment producing a white image in X-radiographs.

Above, Fig. 26: Leonardo da Vinci, the Mona Lisa, c. 1501- 1510/15, oil on poplar, 77 x 53 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre (detail of hands).

Above, Fig. 27: Leonardo da Vinci and workshop, the Virgin of the Rocks, c. 1493/95-1508; detail of St John: [a] = In direct light, [b] = X-radiograph). [b] shows a white image in the sections containing a substantial quantity of lead white.

Above, Fig. 28: [a] = X-radiograph of the New York Salvator Mundi (detail of blessing hand), [b] = X-radiograph of the Mona Lisa (detail of hands section located by a white oval outlining). It is now an established fact that Leonardo uses less and less lead white in the flesh paint of his fully autograph paintings as his technique develops in subtlety, in particular from 1500 onwards. The X-ray characteristic densely white image revealing the use of lead white in paintings does not appear in the hands of the Mona Lisa, whose forms are not discernible here; conversely, the technique used in the blessing hand of the New York Salvator Mundi is proven very different by X-ray imaging, where the limb’s shape is distinguished clearly. While the latter work is contemporary with the Louvre masterpiece, its execution compares well that of the London version of the Virgin of the Rocks, from the same period also, a studio altarpiece in which Boltraffio’s contribution was very probable and the substantial use of lead white evident (Figs. 20, 27a and 27b, above).

Incidentally, it has sometimes been hypothesized that Leonardo painted Christ’s face on the Salvator Mundi in an “out-of-focus” fashion, thus misty and blurred, in order to mark the spatial distance separating the face and the blessing hand and, thanks to this stylistic trick, suggest visually that the more distinctly shaped limb comes forward like in a real life 3-D effect. Yet, despite the ruined state of the picture when observed without any repaint, either old or recent, no such presumed artistic device can be seen in the otherwise unlike-Leonardo, heavy modelling of what subsists of the face: the overall treatment and definition of the values of light, shade and tone is exactly the same in both Christ’s face and blessing hand (Figs. 1 and 11, above). Whatever the case, a very interesting document appears to support the final supervision of the Cook version of the Salvator Mundi by Boltraffio: the impressive Study for the heads of the Madonna and Child in metal point kept in Chatsworth (Fig. 29, below) shows the extent to which Giovanni Antonio mimics Leonardo’s style (with slight departures that make a big difference) while displaying an unspontaneous, yet brilliant treatment of the Virgin’s hair in a graphic ‘hard-edge’ spirit close to Christ’s somehow systematic curls falling on His proper left shoulder (Figs. 30 and 31, below). A feature that is strikingly at variance with Leonardo’s usual treatment of curled hairs in his late years – as clearly appears in the Angel’s more evanescent and fluffy curls in the London version of the Virgin of the Rocks (the latter figure’s autograph status has always been accepted contrary to the rest of the Holy group) (Fig. 32, below). In fact, cork-screwing curled hairlocks are frequently seen in compositions not by Leonardo like, for instance, the Prado Mona Lisa, and the two studio productions of the Madonna of the Yarnwinder, one belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch, another kept in a private collection in New York (Figs. 33, 34a and b, 35a and b, below). More might be said on the inconsistencies in the New York Salvator Mundi panel, notably Christ’s proper left hand holding the crystal orb where the fingers are arranged in a strictly regular and unnatural sequence that somehow evokes the ribs of a small upturned umbrella (Fig. 36 a and b, below). Needless to say, such a solecism cannot denote Leonardo’s presence in that section – whereas, an additional pointer finally reveals that, if not Boltraffio in Leonardo’s studio, some other talented artist could have coped with the blessing hand without problem so as to make it closer to the master’s spirit: the remarkable Study of a hand in the Ambrosiana, sometimes attributed to Ambrogio De’Predis or to Marco d’Oggiono, is more eloquent than any words in this connection (Fig. 37, below).

Before ending, another oddity of the blessing hand should be mentioned, given its prime importance. Thanks to their precision, some remarkable visual documents reveal that the pentimento in the thumb increases the suspicion that Leonardo had little to do, if anything at all, in the making of the New York Salvator Mundi (Figs. 38a and 38b, below) . Interestingly, the Modestini cleaning has let emerge the initial form of the thumb, which, in fact, was shapeless and ill-defined at the outset, with two thumbs instead of one. Apparently, both were executed during the same painting session and not successively as is often thought. It might be considered that, following Leonardo’s well-known theory of componimento inculto (shapeless rough), the artist had sketched out two thumbs with a view to ultimately select the one best suiting his intentions. But this scenario is hardly acceptable: none of the initially elaborated thumbs is right in terms of anatomy and perspective. Both fingers have in fact been executed on the warm underpaint that served to make the brighter flesh tones, over which layer some basic modelling was painted with darker hues, yet, in each case the thumb was wrong. The more elaborate one, finally shaped as is seen today thanks to Boltraffio’s retouching (or whoever else did it save Leonardo), was seemingly meant to show the thumb’s first phalanx bent and not raised – while nearly in profile, a difficult angle to depict accurately even by a skilled artist. This was not really consistent with the position of the hand – already rather awkward – and this is why the wiser and easer solution was to show the inside of the thumb in front view, now raised and not bent anymore (but still wrong because not defined clearly, thus departing from the orthodox anatomy and movement of any human hand). The abandoned thumb was far too detached from the metacarpal bone to express what characterizes a natural hand gesture (a rough black outline along the right hand-side of that thumb could be an attempt to correct its faulty axis). Should any doubt subsist about Salai’s main authorship in the ex-Cook Collection Salvator Mundi, a further pointer would seem to contradict it doggedly: the confrontation of the unrestored blessing hand ( Fig. 38b, below) with the reversed infrared image of the Ambrosiana’s St John-the-Baptist (attributed to Salai, Figs. 14 and 15 above) reveals the strange similarity of the thumbs in each painting, including the hesitant positioning of the finger, a singular feature seen in both equally (Figs. 39a and b, below ). Under such circumstances, it is difficult to imagine that Leonardo contributed in this project materially, except for advocating the sensible, yet unsatisfactory, solution retained ultimately.

Above, Fig. 29: Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Study for the heads of the Madonna and Child, c. 1498-1500, silverpoint on paper, 29.7 x 22 cm, Chatsworth, Duke of Devonshire and Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement.

Above, Fig. 30: The New York Salvator Mundi (detail of Christ’s ringlets).

Above, Fig. 31: Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Study for the heads of the Madonna and Child (detail of the Virgin’s hair).

Above, Fig. 32: Leonardo da Vinci and workshop, the Virgin of the Rocks (detail of Angel’s hair).

Above, Fig. 33: Workshop of Leonardo da Vinci (Salai?), the Mona Lisa, c. 1501-1515, oil on wood panel, 76. 3 x 53 cm, Madrid, Prado Museum.

Above, Fig. 34: [a] = Detail of curls in Leonardo’s Mona Lisa in the Louvre, [b] = Detail of curls in the Prado Mona Lisa. [a] displays Leonardo’s extremely natural depiction of the sitter’s hair curls in the legendary portrait while [b] reveals the studio’s mechanical treatment of the same detail.

Above, Fig. 35: 35) [a] = Workshop of Leonardo da Vinci, the Madonna of the Yarnwinder, c. 1501 (?), oil on wood panel transferred to canvas, 50.2 x 36.4 cm, New York, Private Collection, [b] = Detail of Madonna’s hair.

Above, Fig. 36: [a] = The New York Salvator Mundi (detail of Christ’s proper left hand), [b] = Umbrella pattern comparing the New York Salvator Mundi’s proper left hand.

Above, Fig. 37: Workshop of Leonardo da Vinci (Ambrogio De’Predis or Marco d’Oggiono?), c. 1495 (?), Study of hand, metal point and white highlights on light blue paper, 13 x 12.9 cm, Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana.

Above, Fig. 38: [a] The New York Salvator Mundi (detail of blessing hand, restored stage); [b] The New York Salvator Mundi (detail of blessing hand rid of old repaints – see Fig. 11, above). As appears in [b], the dual, hesitant construction of the thumb reveals that its author was not very familiar with human anatomy. Quite obviously, Leonardo’s rigorous precepts to the painter in this field did not apply in any making stage of what stands here as a ‘theoretical hand’ and not one faithful to nature.

Above, Fig. 39: [a] The New York Salvator Mundi (detail of blessing hand rid of old repaints, like in Fig. 38b, above); [b] detail pasted from the reversed infrared image of Salai’s attributed St John-the-Baptist in the Ambrosiana (Figs. 14 and 15, above). A worthwhile comparison insofar as it helps to better situate Salai as an artist and his particular role in Leonardo’s bottega.

Above, Fig. 40: Extract from Salai’s posthumous inventory of the estate of 21st April 1525 (typed transcription).

Given the preceding, and contrary to the generally accepted idea, no determining fact or document proves that the studio productions deriving from Leonardo’s original compositions, whether painted or just sketched out graphically, were inevitably supervised and retouched in all cases by the master in person. And even if it were so, how much of Leonardo’s own work could be quantified in the New York panel as it stood before the recent conservation treatment? On visual examination of the relating technical image (Fig. 11, above), no essential detail suggests that Boltraffio would not have executed it jointly with Salai, especially as what has survived of the original paint layer, notably in Christ’s face and blessing hand, brings enough information to see that Leonardo’s faultless and easily recognizable brushwork must have vanished if the master ever contributed to the work’s execution significantly, because it is indistinguishable, thus missing entirely in the composition as it appears without the Modestini restoration, and so to the point that no claim of its hypothetical former existence can be sustained on sensible, scientific grounds. Against this absence of evidence of Leonardo’s hand on the Cook version of the Leonardesque Salvator Mundi, much solid material exists to propose another attribution that is entirely consistent with what the work really looks like – namely, Salai, jointly with Boltraffio. Such a conclusion, I believe, offers a better understanding of the studio works, which were produced by various permutations of collaboration, in which the master is close spiritually, yet not quite there. It should be noted, additionally, that beyond the above-mentioned artistic and technical flaws, doubts about Leonardo’s authorship are the more justified as a Salvator Mundi painting is recorded and priced 25 scudi in Salai’s posthumous inventory of the estate established on 21 April 1525: “Uno Christo in modo de uno Dio padre”, which was the then designation of such a visual representation of Christ (Fig. 40). Therefore, despite that concise – yet very clear – mention, no objective element opposes the identification of the ex-Cook Collection Salvator Mundi with the recorded Christo since, 1) the New York sale’s IR imaging displays technical features consistent with Salai’s sketching out practice, 2) no documented eventual provenance of this kind has been connected to Leonardo himself by far until now.** (A and B.)

Finally, because Leonardo stands among the greatest artists that ever existed, it is always tempting to increase his very restricted pictorial corpus with works that fall short doing it full justice. Yet, art at this level of accomplishment cannot be speculated about without the necessary critical approach and minimum knowledge of how Renaissance painters used to proceed in their creation, – mostly founded on perfect drawing – especially as in Leonardo’s case, his Treatise on Painting delivers crystal clear data to the researcher regarding its authors’ supremely elevated standards. We must therefore face the truth: this latest case of an upgraded studio item does no justice to Leonardo’s genius; it does not correspond to the highest standards encountered in his original autograph works and theoretical writings on painting. As such, its attribution to Leonardo himself must be rejected and given now, more appropriately, to his close circle of collaborators working on their own while still depending from the master’s occasional suggestions, whether drawn or verbal***.

* I wish to thank Michael Daley warmly for welcoming the present contribution of mine on the ArtWatch UK website and for having adjusted its presentation with the utmost care and kindness.

**A: On this point see in particular, G. Bora, D. A. Brown, M. Carminati, M. T. Fiorio, P. C. Marani, J. Shell, The Legacy of Leonardo. Painters in Lombardy 1490-1530, Skira Editore, Milan, 1998.
**B: See J. Shell and G. Sironi, “Salai and Leonardo’s Legacy”, in The Burlington Magazine,, CXXXIII, no. 1055, pp. 95-108.On Salai’s own pictorial production listed on the 1525 posthumous inventory and the original Leonardo paintings (including the Mona Lisa) which he sold to king Francis I in 1517-1518, see B. Jestaz, “François 1er, Salaï et les tableaux de Léonard”, Revue de l’Art, no. 126, 1999-4, p. 68-72.” On a specific agreement between Leonardo and Ambrogio de’ Predis about the master’s moral rights over the copy of the Virgin of the Rocks, see Grazioso Sironi, Nuovi documenti riguardanti la ‘Vergine delle rocce’ di Leonardo da Vinci, Giunti Barberà, Florence, 1981, p. 23-25 (document VII of 18 August 1508).

*** The recent cleaning of the Louvre’s Bacchus (initially painted as St John in the Wilderness) has revealed that this workshop composition of a higher artistic status than that of the Cook Salvator Mundi did not include the master’s material contribution although he had drawn an elaborate preparatory red chalk study for it (whereabouts unknown since 1973).

Jacques Franck, 3 (& 24) August 2020.


The Saviour and a Stealth-Attribution

Martin Kemp and a dozen (largely mute) art historians bet the professional farm on a “from-nowhere” Salvator Mundi being an autograph Leonardo painting. On fetching $450m in 2017 it disappeared. No-one will say where it is. We now hear from a previously reliable source that it never left New York.

In February’s The Art Newspaper (“Doubly lost: Salvator Mundi fails to show up at the Louvre”) Professor Martin Kemp brings no news on the disappeared picture that he, more than any scholar, has championed. Instead, he bemoans the Salvator’s latest humiliating no-show at the Louvre’s Leonardo blockbuster exhibition (and demotion within the catalogue to the “Cook Collection” work) for having given fresh impetus to “personalised” tweets accusing him of “intimidating academics who disagreed”, and to what he deems fake news stories by journalists who confess to him that “what they are reporting does not stand up to scrutiny”. What never withstood scrutiny is the disappeared Salvator Mundi’s Leonardo ascription. The “qualitative” case for the Robert Simon and Co. picture being a Leonardo always rested on a self-defeating stylistic argument: that some of its parts were exceptionally well painted. We predicted the approaching Louvre no-show and Kemp denied it. Now, bereft of a credible espousal of a disappeared painting’s disappeared Leonardo ascription, Kemp swishes the robe of scholarly piety and tilts at the world’s unfairness:

“It has become hard to look fairly at the evidence in the complex, interlocked and cumulative way that Leonardo’s paintings require. In recognising a work as by Leonardo we have the inestimable advantage that we can adduce multivalent factors from his art, theory and science. The disadvantage of this complexity is that if one factor can be picked off (convincingly or not), it can be used to taint the overall argument.” (Emphasis added.) In supposed illustration of such tainting usages Kemp contends: “A good example is the silly dispute about the optics of the sphere that Christ holds in the palm of his hand.” It was not at all a good example to cite: as discussed below, Kemp has successively held two not properly acknowledged conflicted positions on the globe’s optics.

THE SALVATOR MUNDI GLOBE’S DISTORTING OPTICS

Above, Fig. 1: Bottom row, the missing Salvator Mundi, as exhibited at the National Gallery in 2011-12, left, and as offered for sale at Christie’s, New York, after further (covert) restoration at New York University in 2017; top row, left, the “de Ganay” Salvator Mundi which was proposed in 1982 (unsuccessfully) as the original Leonardo prototype painting; the Wenceslaus Hollar 1650 etched copy of a painting then believed to be Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi. Both candidate paintings were said to have been the subject of Hollar’s copy.

A CONFIDENTIAL INVITATION TO A SELECT COMPANY OF SCHOLARS

In March 2008 Martin Kemp was invited by the then new director of the National Gallery, Nicholas Penny, to join a small and select group of scholars to examine the Salvator Mundi painting – “We are only inviting two or three scholars”. The invitation was accompanied by the disclosure that scholars at the National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, were already “convinced that it is Leonardo’s original version”. Kemp responded immediately to the picture’s “vibration” and the extent to which “Signs of Leonardo’s magic asserted themselves.” He warmed to the New York art dealer, Robert Simon, “the custodian of the picture (whom I later discovered was its co-owner)…All I knew at this stage was that it was being represented by Robert Simon. He told me it was in the hands of a ‘good owner’ who intended to do the right thing by it, and I did not inquire further…” Kemp decided to research “every aspect of the Salvator Mundi” which had “seemed at first sight to resonate deeply with key aspects of Leonardo’s science of art and his views of the cosmos.” In 2019 Simon said of that National Gallery meeting: “Attribution seemed not to be an issue. There was no debate.” He further discloses that even as Penny was sending his invitations to the non-debating examination (- which occasion Ben Lewis has fleshed out admirably in his 2019 The Last Leonardo), he had dispatched Luke Syson, the National Gallery curator of its forthcoming Leonardo show, to New York, to view the Simon-fronted Salvator. Kemp reports that shortly before the 15 November 2017 sale of the Salvator Mundi at Christie’s, New York, “I was approached by the auctioneers to confirm my research and agreed to record a video interview to combat the misinformation appearing in the press – providing I was not drawn into the actual sale process.”

THE DISCOVERED OPTICS OF TRANSPARENT GLOBES

It is better practice for scholars to report what artists did do than to pronounce on what they would not have done. In his 2018 Living with Leonardo account, Kemp implies that he swiftly shifted position on the orb’s refractions during his theoretical journey on optics. In truth he had abandoned one position and adopted its antithesis. He recalls his early 2008 flush of excitement: “The most satisfying facet of my own research concerned my hunch that the globe was made of rock crystal…I had toyed with the idea that the double image of the heel of Christ’s right hand visible through the sphere might be the result of a double refraction characteristic of rock crystal; but the optics would not work. The apparent doubling is almost certainly another pentimento.” In 2018 (and therefore when speaking from his later adjusted position) Kemp advised:

“We should remember that Leonardo was drawing on his knowledge of rock crystal to devise a large sphere for Christ to hold – he was not making a ‘portrait’ of an actual sphere, nor was he following all its optical consequences to their logical conclusions. I have been asked on more than one occasion why the drapery behind the sphere is so little affected by what is, in effect, a large magnifying lens. The answer, in a word, is decorum; that is to say, pictorial good manners…Leonardo’s paintings remake nature – not only in accordance with natural law, but also in obedience to the rules that govern functioning images. He would not have disrupted the efficacy of the painting as a devotional image.”

His enthusiastic researches grew fast: “By early November 2008 I had a substantial essay of more than 8,000 words in draft, albeit with more research to conduct. The draft expanded as months went by. At one point it was entitled ‘New Wine in an Old Bottle’, to acknowledge that Leonardo had endowed a very traditional format with radically new features.”

THE NOVEMBER 2011 NATURE MAGAZINE (- “Art history: Sight and salvation”)

Those researches had been earmarked for a book of essays to be published by Yale University Press and sold at the National Gallery’s 2011-12 blockbuster exhibition, “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan”. When that book failed to materialise Kemp, ever media-savvy, “turned to outlets that would deliver in time for the opening of the exhibition – not for the full research, but to get across some key points. The outlet over which I had most control was the regular column I was then writing in the science magazine Nature. There was enough science in the topic to justify the inclusion: not only the fruits of the scientific examination, but also Leonardo’s optical ingenuities and the cosmology of the crystalline sphere. The essay appeared on 10 November [2011], one day after the opening of the show.”

At that date Kemp was still holding to his initially gratifying hypothesis of materially refracted images petrified within the depicted crystal orb. In the November 2011 Nature, he specifically noted: “It seems that he [the artist] observed the double refraction produced by calcite. The heel of Christ’s hand exhibits two distinct contours, not in this case due to a change of mind.” Thus, three years on, Kemp was still “toying” with the idea that the orb depicted naturally generated refractions at the moment when the National Gallery exhibition opened and after the publication of its catalogue. What would induce an abandonment of that position? For that matter, why did the hand, as seen through the globe, change between 2011-12, when at the National Gallery, and 2017, when about to be sold by Christie’s, New York? (See Fig. 5, below).

THE BIG FLIP AND A PROVENANCE DAISY-CHAIN

Two days after publication of Kemp’s article the Times published our first intervention in which we noted that in 1650 Wenceslaus Hollar had copied refractions in the drapery seen through the orb in a painting believed at the time to be by Leonardo (see above, left, Fig. 2). Neither Kemp nor the National Gallery responded to the letter even though this optical discrepancy carried lethal provenance implications for the National Gallery’s (mysteriously owned) then-attributed Leonardo Salvator Mundi: if that painting showed no such deflected drapery, it could not have been the version copied by Hollar, as was claimed in the exhibition catalogue entry by its National Gallery curator, Luke Syson, (albeit on the borrowed researches of Robert Simon, who in turn had drawn on the not always substantiated researches of Joanne Snow-Smith who, in 1982, had proposed another Leonardo school variant – the “de Ganay” picture, top left, Fig. 1 above – as the original prototype painting). If the Simon-fronted Salvator had not been copied by Hollar then there could be no claims of English or French royal connections and, in consequence, there would be no record of the painting before 1900, when it entered the Cook Collection in England – from which collection it would be sold in 1958 for £45…to be picked up by Simon and Co. in the USA for $1,175 in 2005. In short, the Gallery had no historical support for its claim that this was a “lost” original autograph prototype painting for the very many and various Salvator Mundi paintings generated within Leonardo’s school.

Above, Fig. 3: Left, a detail of Wenceslaus Hollar’s copy showing refractions of drapery seen through the orb; right, a detail of the Salvator Mundi painting showing no refractions of drapery. This image shows the painting not as when exhibited at the National Gallery in 2011-12 but as when offered for sale in 2017 after further (covert) restoration carried out at New York University. Note here the radically different depictions of the hands holding the orb and the way light had accumulated around the circumference in Hollar’s orb.

Although our letter elicited no response, in the next issue of Nature, Kemp’s comments on the orb’s optical properties came under explicit technical challenge. On 21 December 2011, five weeks into the exhibition, Nature published an exchange between Professor Kemp and a Dutch scientist, André J. Noest, who rejected Kemp’s claim that the double contour of the heel of the hand was the product of a double refraction within a calcite orb and did so precisely on the grounds that: “The painting shows no optical distortions in the folds of the clothes, for example, as would be expected from refraction by an orb of calcite, quartz or glass, or even a water-filled glass vessel.” Moreover, “The double contour of the hand continues slightly outside the orb, hence it could be due to a previous stage of the painting, or pentimento. The absence of refraction or reflection effects suggests that the orb depicts an idealised celestial sphere, with the painted specks on its surface representing heavenly bodies.”

Kemp immediately caved: “As far as we can tell, given the damage to the Salvator Mundi, the garments behind the sphere are indeed undistorted”. While so-saying he again made no reference to the contrary testimony of Hollar’s copy, even though, on 10 November 2011, he had written:

“The second variety of ‘scientific’ evidence is particular to Leonardo. He insisted that painting is a science — it relies on a systematic body of knowledge based on a deep scrutiny of cause and effect in nature. He saw painting as ‘the sole imitator of all the manifest works of nature … which with philosophical and subtle speculation considers all manner of forms … all of which are enveloped in ‘light and shade’. For any painting to be recognized as a Leonardo, it has to bear witness to such mighty ambitions. The Salvator Mundi, he held, “does so on two main optical counts…” One count was:

“The other optical effect is unique to this painting, both in Leonardo’s work and in the Renaissance more generally. The orb is not the standard globe of the world. It is translucent and glistens internally with little points of light. These are not the spherical bubbles found in glass, but are the kind of cavity inclusions (small gaps) that appear in some specimens of rock crystal and calcite. Leonardo, we know, was considered an expert in such semi-precious materials. It seems that he observed the double refraction produced by calcite. The heel of Christ’s hand exhibits two distinct contours, not in this case due to a change of mind. (Emphasis added.)

KEMP’S DISCUSSION OF THE ORB’S OPTICAL PROPERTIES

In 2018 in his memoir Living with Leonardo, Kemp reproduced just two images of orbs, as above, Fig. 4, top and centre, and wrote: “I had toyed with the idea that the double image of the heel of Christ’s right hand visible through the sphere might be a double refraction characteristic of rock crystal but the optics would not work. The apparent doubling is almost certainly another pentimento.” Again, he made no acknowledgement of Hollar’s testimony. Nor did he address the striking similarities of the Tradescant orb, as he photographed it, with that copied by Hollar and that encountered in the Worsey picture (Fig. 4, above, bottom right). Similarly, he later declined to address the differences evident in the orb between 2012 when it left the National Gallery and 2017 when offered at Christies – see Fig. 5 below:

BODIES OF COMPARATIVE VISUAL EVIDENCE

None of the many Leonardo school Salvators shows the hand in the massive and double-edged manner of the now-disappeared version (as above at Fig. 5). Just as the illumination seen in Hollar’s orb, Fig. 6, below, left and top, is strikingly similar to that seen in the lost Worsey picture’s orb, so too in both images the hand holding the orb is shown distorted and compressed towards the orb’s circumference.

While Kemp seems proud to have been the first to suggest a rock crystal orb, an orb’s material composition is of little artistic consequence in terms of its capacity to distort. Our small solid glass orb shown below at Fig. 7, demonstrates in the lower image how, when an orb straddles a parallel gap between two pictures, that gap is shown (inverted) at the top of the globe as two curved, not straight lines.

EARLY AND CONTEMPORARY ORBS

Kemp’s claim that sensationalising critics make it difficult to conduct a duly “sober and systematic analysis of primary sources” seems rich. So far as we know, he has never addressed Ludwig Heydenreich’s groundbreaking 1964 study of the many Salvator Mundi pictures produced by Leonardo’s school and followers. (We published all of Heydenreich’s illustrations – including that of the lost “Worsey Collection” picture – the day before Christie’s sold the disappeared Salvator Mundi for $450 million – see “Problems with the New York Leonardo Salvator Mundi Part I: Provenance and Presentation”.)

Kemp praises Robert Simon’s researches: “He assembled a large bank of research images, including a growing number of copies or variants which testified to the hold that Leonardo’s inventions exercised on other artists and patrons.” In the long-promised Margaret Dalivalle, Martin Kemp and Robert B. Simon book Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi, Simon acknowledges Heydenreich’s work as “The most significant publication on the subject” and “an excellent introduction to the subject”. Further he acknowledges that Heydenreich had concluded, on the very great variations present in the works, that no autograph Leonardo painting had been produced. At the same time Simon describes the Salvator Mundi, as “One of three lost paintings by Leonardo known from copies”. What had changed since Heydenreich? Simon’s researches had identified “several more painted versions and variants”, but none was considered to have approached “the quality of our painting”. In that case, the logical/stylistic problem strengthened: where bona fide Leonardo paintings exist, all copies, however variously talented their authors, can be seen to sing from a single design sheet. In this case, the more anarchically various works emerge, the less plausible they become as supposed copies of a single autograph work.

No case – and even less any visually-comparative case – has been compiled to show the Simon and Co. painting had served as a prototype for all versions. Simon tacitly concedes this methodological lapse when saying: “this image of Christ was more of a curiosity, since relatively few versions of the Salvator Mundi composition were known and, unlike copies of the Mona Lisa, there was little consistency in the details among them; each seemed almost an interpretation of the subject rather than a faithful reproduction of a common original.” That central problem persists at macro and micro levels: if Leonardo had painted a large hand with a horizontal thumb, the tip of which was cropped by a pre-fixed frame, why did no other painting echo or follow his example? In his catalogue entry, Luke Syson says of this hand that-no-one-copied, that although it is seen through a crystal orb, “Christ’s hand seems miraculously undistorted” and that “Leonardo has therefore created an object which would be understood as a piece of divine craftsmenship, but still be his own invention.”

Kemp had checked in the photographic library of the Warburg Institute to see what other artists had made of the orb in Salvator images: “There was quite a variety. Brass globes were common, sometimes with a cross on top. Some took the form of terrestrial globes with indications of land and seas. Others were made of glass, and a few contained little landscape vistas. In two Venetian examples Christ placed his hand on an ample glass orb – appropriately enough, given Venice’s pre-eminence in glass manufacture. But none seemed to show a crystal sphere.”

Much as Kemp hugs the especial qualities of crystal, with regard to the supposed prohibition against artists indicating refractions within transparent orbs (on grounds of propriety and decorum) the nature of the material – glass, crystal or quartz – is immaterial: if an orb gives rise to spherically-determined distortions it gives rise to spherically-determined distortions. (The mention of Venetian glass-making skills might be considered germane to this subject.) This attribution was made on a manifestly incomplete programme of studies: every time Kemp explains absences of refraction on the Simon Salvator by invoking “decorum” and “pictorial good manners” he ignores the testimony of Hollar who had copied defractions on a painting then judged to by Leonardo in 1650. Those deflections on that carefully dated 1650 etching are both material and historic facts. Where is that painting? Had Liz James’ splendid and technically illuminating 2017 book Mosaics in the Medieval World been published earlier, Kemp might have appreciated that even devout Byzantine mosaic-makers had no qualms about depicting refractions within Celestial Globes.

TRANSPARENT ORBS FROM BYZANTIUM TO DURER

Above, Fig. 8: Left, The Archangel Gabriel, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, ninth century; top, an apse mosaic depicting the Mother of God and her Child and the archangels Michael (left) and Gabriel at the sixth century Church of the Panagia Angeloktistos, Kiti, Cyprus.

Above, Fig. 9: the orb held by the Archangel Gabriel at Hagia Sophia.

Concerning decorum, how would Kemp account for the above Byzantine mosaic image of a transparent orb held by the archangel Gabriel in which the thumb and part of the supporting hand are visible through the orb; in which a deflected image of the gold sleeve is present; and in which the straight-edged, vertical feathers of Gabriel’s wing have been rotated horizontally and given wavy form when viewed within the orb? In the two sixth century orbs below at Fig. 10, as held respectively by the archangels Michael and Gabriel, four fingers are shown through the orb in the one and the thumb and part of the hand in the other. Has consideration been made of the longevity of depictions of transparent orbs in sacred Christian images?

In Fig. 11, above, we see part of Durer’s (unfinished) Salvator Mundi in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Have Simon and Kemp – not to mention the Met’s own declared curatorial and conservation supporters of the attribution – not considered the possible relationships between the two great contemporary artists, Leonardo and Durer?

In Fig. 12, we see that Durer showed defractions of drapery within his transparent orb. Was he aware before 1505 of such a usage in Leonardo? Was Leonardo aware of Durer’s depiction? Was this (then-in-progress work) one of the panels Durer is known to have taken to Venice in 1505? Could Leonardo have known of this incomplete, in effect, part-coloured drawing of a Salvator Mundi with a large refractions-generating transparent orb?

Regarding Fig. 13, above, how should we consider the coincidences between Durer’s Salvator Mundi of 1505 and Hollar’s 1650 copy made in Antwerp after a Salvator Mundi then said to be by Leonardo?

Above, Fig. 14: The compilation of three hands above highlights the paucity of scholarship that accompanied the sustained and effectively covert drive to have the Simon and Co. Salvator Mundi accepted in the 2011 National Gallery exhibition as an autograph Leonardo. Ben Lewis has established that the hand on the right is found on a Salvator Mundi painting now given to Giampietrino. It lives in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, and is incontrovertibly the Salvator Mundi that was once in Charles I’s collection, where it was given to Leonardo. Simon, Kemp and others have held that “their” Salvator Mundi was that recorded Charles I painting and that it had been copied by Hollar almost a century and a half later. Self-evidently the Pushkin Salvator cannot have been copied by Hollar because it is an entirely different – and more obviously Leonardo-like – compositional type. Without anticipating Jacques Franck’s forthcoming comments on the mis-drawn hand in the centre above, we can surely see here that in 1505 Durer and, perhaps a little later, Leonardo’s student Giampietrino had both made a better fist of drawing a Blessing Hand than had the Master of the Simon/Kemp and others’ Salvator Mundi?

Michael Daley, Director, 5 February 2020

UPDATE – 11 February 2020:

Collective Failures of Due Scholarly Diligence and Visual Acuity

Following publication of the above post some contend that the former Cook Collection Salvator Mundi painting failed to leave New York after the 15 November 2017 sale because the successful bidder declined to pay in full; and, two further Byzantine orbs showing refracted draperies have emerged, as shown and discussed below. While the monumental mystery of this painting’s whereabouts constitutes a globally shared preoccupation, it is not the essential professional concern in this affair. Before auctioneers entered the scene, a seemingly self-selecting group of international scholars by-passed all means of open appraisal, contention and debate – and then disparaged all subsequent critics. In our view, the magnitude of this particular visual misreading by a group of leading art historical figures rivals that encountered forty years ago on the restoration of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes.

Above, Fig. 15: The historical sequence of previously un-noted transparent orbs showing refracted drapery grows. A correspondent suggests that the orb encountered on the 14th Century icon of the Archangel Michael in the Byzantine & Christian Museum in Athens (as above, top centre, and below at Fig. 16) might have been known to Leonardo. If that seems unlikely – the Athens museum links the icon to a mural cycle of 1315-1320 in a Constantinople monastery – certainly, its existence might not have been expected to elude scholars today who enjoy full access to university libraries and the internet. An earlier German picture, the Athenaeum’s 1514 Coronation of the Virgin by Hans Süss von Kulmbach (above) not only contains an orb showing refracted drapery but one that appears to float and cast a shadow on God the Father’s lap – here the hand seems to be holding the orb in place rather than supporting it. In his 1998 book On Reflection Jonathan Miller noted the anomalous reflections of a window on the orb and toyed with the thought that they might have carried an allegorical function by symbolising the idea that the universe itself is a church, but he added, “they do look like the windows in the artist’s studio”. Indeed, and the upper reflection appears even to show a safety catch. It might be thought inconceivable that Durer would not have known of this orb and its treatment: von Kulmbach being the former Durer apprentice who took over the production of his master’s altarpieces in 1510. Durer, who likely had designed this orb, could not have been indebted to Leonardo and his school on transparent orbs – which underlines the unaddressed question: were they apprised of the great German master’s earlier engagement with such orbs?

Above, Fig. 17: Of course, any scholar might overlook a particular historic work. The real professional lapse here lies in a group-failure to recognise the import of manifestly un-like images. For example (and as mentioned above) it was crucial to the recent campaign to upgrade the Cook Salvator Mundi that it be accepted as the one-time subject of Hollar’s 1650 etched copy of a Salvator Mundi painting then thought to have been painted by Leonardo. If we allow for the fact that even so good a copyist as Hollar might not be expected to reproduce faithfully every detail of a relatively large painting in small etching; and, even, if we make allowances for what are nowadays euphemistically described as paintings’ “conservation histories”, no visually alert expert professional should have believed that Hollar might have copied his orb/hand, as above left, from that found on the former-Cook Collection Salvator Mundi, as shown above, right. Given the scale on which Hollar worked, the challenge of perfectly reproducing the elaborate geometric knot-pattern decorations on the stole might seem like an invitation to fudge or dissemble but, in truth, we see that Hollar contrived, in-miniature, a complex geometric pattern that is remarkably close in spirit and appearance to that encountered on the Cook Leonardo school Salvator Mundi painting. Given that close correspondence, it is simply inconceivable that Hollar derived his image from the orb/hand present on the (now-disappeared) painting, as seen above right.

A CATALOGUE OF ERRORS AND MISSTEPS

Even when the originally claimed derivation was being announced by Luke Syson in the catalogue entry to the 2011-2012 National Gallery Leonardo blockbuster exhibition, certain reservations were declared. In this regard Syson’s entry itself constitutes a catalogue of art historical missteps. First, he holds that it had “always seemed likely” that Leonardo had painted such picture. In a footnote supporting his claim, Syson states that he was writing on the authority of a then-pending and more detailed publication of this picture by Robert Simon and others:

“I am grateful to Robert Simon for making available his research and that of Dianne Dwyer Modestini, Nica Gutman Rieppi and (for the picture’s provenance) Margaret Dalivalle, all to be published in a forthcoming book.” That book notoriously did not materialise until 2019. It is titled Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi & The Collecting of Leonardo in the Stuart Courts. In his introduction, Simon claims it to be “the first to treat the painting monographically.” Some monograph: Modestini’s contribution was dropped – as was that of Gutman. Thus, there is no horse’s-mouth account of the picture’s long and various campaigns of restoration and no technical reports are carried. As also mentioned above, Simon acknowledges that, on the historically most thorough examination of the available evidence, Professor Heydenreich had concluded that Leonardo had not painted a Salvator Mundi.

Ill-logic has stalked this Leonardo ascription. When discussing an earlier claim that Hollar’s etching had been made after a different Leonardo painting then being advocated as a Leonardo original, Syson sensibly notes that “Hollar might very well have been copying a copy.” He further admits that the combined facts of the Hollar copy and the many workshop painted copies do “not constitute proof that Leonardo painted a Salvator Mundi.” Syson even nods towards Heydenreich’s thesis: “it has sometimes been argued that [certain…] drawings might have formed the basis for one or more finished designs – perhaps cartoons – that he [Leonardo] made expressly to be copied by pupils but with no primary version by the master himself.” But then against that, and in emulation of Simon, Syson takes the stripped-down and re-painted former Cook Collection Salvator Mundi picture to constitute proof in itself that Leonardo had painted his own prototype for all other copies after all, and that this version comprises the now-supposed and claimed “lost” Leonardo: “The re-emergence of this picture cleaned and restored to reveal [sic] an autograph work by Leonardo, therefore comes as an extraordinary surprise.”

In part, the surprise to Syson stems from the fact that a correspondence between the Cook picture and the Hollar copy is not complete: “Though Hollar’s Christ is very slightly stouter and broader, the two images coincide almost exactly” even though “The draperies are just a little simplified and there is no glow of light around Christ’s head.” Among the listed similarities, “the knot-pattern ornament on Christ’s crossed stole and the border of his vestment are very similar indeed, a particularly important consideration given that this ornament is the aspect most susceptible to change in the different surviving versions.” Now, if the perceived similarities between the Hollar copy and the Cook picture count in the latter’s favour, does it not follow that their dissimilarities should be counted in the latter’s disfavour? It seems that this $64,000 (-in fact $450 million) question may never have been asked by those who formed an orderly queue to ascribe the much remodelled former Cook painting to Leonardo himself. In our view that apparent omission is the gravest and least explicable of all: in the visual arts generally and in the making of ascriptions particularly, differences, no less than similarities, are of the essence. We have itemised the many dissimilarities previously. In Fig. 18, below, we pare the question down to a single comparison of the Hollar and Cook globes so as to pose the simple question: if this comparative image below constituted a newspaper “Spot the differences” quiz, how many differences would you be able to identify? To make the question easier, we have outlined some of the more massive and glaring discrepancies in white chalk.


Situating “La Bella Principessa’s” Eye

In today’s rolling connoisseurship crisis, the credibility stakes are higher with the unsold claimed Leonardo “La Bella Principessa” drawing than with the spectacularly sold but immediately disappeared $450 million Salvator Mundi painting.

Turning a $1,175 Salvator of 2005 into a record-breaking $450 million in 2017 was achieved with a work that is of its claimed Renaissance period and that is of Leonardo’s school. At issue is whether an unpublished badly damaged, much- restored school work with a couple of good passages (two folded fingers and a section of trompe l’oeil knot pattern) is an autograph Leonardo painting that served as a finished prototype for all other Leonardo school Salvator Mundi paintings.

With “La Bella Principessa” an upgrade is being attempted on a work that first emerged in 1998 without provenance and that was presented anonymously as 19th century German by Christie’s, New York, and sold for $22,850 to a dealer who divested it in 2007 for $19,000 to an art collector who reportedly keeps it in a Swiss Freeport. We propose below that “La Bella” bears the stamp of a singular 19th century school of academic art practice.

WHO DREW “LA BELLA PRINCIPESSA”?

Above, Fig. 1: top, the eye of “La Bella Principessa”; centre, eyes drawn by Picasso, aged eleven; bottom, eyes drawn c. 1860 by Bernard-Romain Julien (1802-1871).

THE DISCOVERY OF THE SOLE PRE-1998 OWNER

In 2010 “La Bella’s” 1998 vendor, Jeanne Marchig, stepped from the shadows to sue Christie’s following press reports that fingerprint evidence had established Leonardo authorship and a value of $100/150 million. That claim was later discredited and dropped. Despite twelve years of assiduous searches by journalistic and art historical advocates, no record of the work predates its only known owner, Jeanne Marchig’s deceased artist/restorer husband, Giannino Marchig (1897–1983). Notwithstanding “La Bella’s” five-century provenance gap and stylistic incongruity advocates have declared it a 1496 portrait of Bianca Sforza. (See “Books on No-Hope Art Attributions”.)

“La Bella Principessa’s” stylistic disqualifications (above, Fig. 2, bottom right) coalesce in the drawing of the eye (above, top left) and against a bona fide Leonardo eye drawing (bottom left). That is, “La Bella’s” eye is constructed by straight-edged planar surfaces when every Leonardo eye was constructed with curves and curving surfaces in accord with anatomically-dictated surface shifts at the eye/cheek intersection (see Fig. 3 below).

Where “La Bella’s” eye could never have been drawn by Leonardo, it could have been made by many skilful artists trained during the late 19th or early 20th centuries when an emphatically linear/planar manner of drawing was widely imposed. Giannino Marchig’s (above) self-portrait and etched profile of a lady betray such stylistic indebtedness. As well as being “La Bella’s” only known/claimed owner – and one who reportedly declined to disclose to his wife from whom or when the drawing had been obtained – Marchig fits the classic forger’s profile by being a talented well-trained artist who after initial successes found himself professionally unfashionable; became a close friend of Bernard Berenson; worked as a restorer; grew inexplicably rich…

As previously noted, “La Bella’s” eye bears stylistic affinities with Cubist artists like Juan Gris (Fig. 3, above, left) and is anatomically incompatible with Leonardo’s drawn and painted eyes as instanced (above, centre) in La belle ferronnière in an infra-red image that discloses the preparatory drawing for the curving, thin lower eyelid; as painted by Leonardo; and, as copied in pencil by Ingres. The chronological sequence of Leonardo eyes above right (the Lady with an Ermine, La belle ferronnière, the Mona Lisa, and the St. John) shows Leonardo striving for an ever-greater softness of effect and nowhere constructing eyes with short straight lines and flat planes.

A NOTE ON THE FAILED-ARTISTS, RESTORERS AND ART FORGERS’ FRATERNITY:

Following the recent publication of Giannino Marchig’s self-portrait, a self-portrait, Fig. 4 above, left, has been attributed to Han van Meegeren (1889-1947), the forger and highly skilled author of the drawn illustration, above right. As Susan Grundy discussed here in 2016 (“A restorer’s aim – The fine line between retouching and forgery”), van Meegeren took a discarded copy by an unknown artist and, by careful restoration and creative additions, turned it into an autograph “Frans Hals” which sold handsomely. Eric Hebborn trained as a medals-winning painter at the Royal Academy Schools in the 1950s before working in London’s West End as a restorer specialising in repairing large paint losses with seemingly continuous old and cracked paint. In his 1997 memoir Confessions of a Master Forger, Hebborn discloses that under the tutelage of his restorer-employer he so improved his knowledge of old techniques, materials and styles as to “become able to ‘restore’ a whole painting – from nothing at all.”

GIANNINO MARCHIG

Above, Fig. 5, details of van Meegeren’s and Marchig’s self portraits. Although Marchig seems to have left no memoir, he did restore a Leonardo school painting and his wife reportedly sold many other works through Christies, New York, presumably also anonymously. It is possible that Marchig made no forgeries. It is possible that he had, as has been claimed since 2010, bought the drawing in the 1950s when forged Renaissance Ladies-in-Profile were commonplace. It is possible that having so bought, he came to doubt the drawing’s authenticity (- on Jeanne Marchig’s testimony, he “restored” the drawing with his own pastels). It is possible that he had made the drawing on a piece of old vellum with “lettering and a little dragon” on the side that has been glued onto an old oak panel, not to sell but to assure himself as a classically trained artist and teacher at the Florence Academy that, had modernism not swept the board, he “could have been a contender”.

THE ROOTS OF A DISTINCTIVE CULT OF DEPICTION BY FRAGMENTARY SURFACE PLANES

Because Marchig’s ownership rests on unsupported and shifting hearsay, anything might be the case with “La Bella Principessa” but, as is stylistically evident in the two self-portrait details above, Marchig and van Meegeren adhered to straight-edged, planar analyses of form.

In the self-portrait details of ears at Fig. 6 above, we see a common predilection for planes and edges and the eschewing of curved lines and surfaces. In van Meegeren (left), three intersecting straight lines confer two sharp points on the lower ear, precisely in the manner of the two diagrammatic ears above that are encountered below at Fig. 8 on the instruction sheet for artists drawn by Charles Bargue in May 1878.

To this draughtsman, the human ear (as drawn for the above 2001 Independent profile portrait of the then President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe) presents an engaging formal/plastic challenge of complexly turning convexities and concavities in which straight lines and points of intersection make no appearance.

As mentioned, the pointy-eared diagrams at Fig. 6 are found on one of nearly two hundred sheets of dawn aids for art students from 1868 onwards that have been gathered in an invaluable 2003-2011 book above at Fig. 8 by Gerald M. Ackerman (in collaboration with the artist Graydon Parrish). It was felt in France during the late 1800s that shortcomings in art training might be corrected by placing better “models” of art before students who would then improve their drawing techniques and imbibe artistic good taste by copying exemplary lithographic drawings of sculptural casts, works of art and life drawings of male models. The national and international influence of the Charles Bargue (1826/27–1883) Jean-Léon Gèrôme Drawing Course (Cours de dessin) was immense. It spread to England and Spain. Van Gogh worked repeatedly through the plates and Picasso famously copied them.

CASTS’ WARS: EVALUATING THE JULIEN v BARGUE LEGACIES

There are two principal components of drawing: shapes and shading. Shape is best and most expeditiously made by line. Line is the principal agent of design being the most precise, accurate and swift tool in the graphic box. Shading is located within a design and can serve many roles. It can mimic the tonal values of colours. It can make surfaces advance or recede optically. Above all, by making gradations of tone from light to dark it can indicate depth and volume in forms or figures. (See Fig. 15.)

The Bargue-Gérôme drawing course was largely executed by Bargue (he drew the lithographs if not all of the prior charcoal drawings of casts) but it was not the first of its kind. A course had been published around 1860 by Bernard-Romain Julien (1802-1871), whose method is shown above left at Fig. 9, against the slightly later Bargue method, above right. Here we have a direct means of comparison in drawings of the same cast classical sculpture and, below, of the successive stages between line and line-with-shading.

Julien seizes the bull by the horns and fixes the shapes of forms immediately with curves and precision. Bargue splits the process into two conceptually discrete stages by depicting the cast first as a straight-edged mapping of “key” points and angles as at centre right, above. By so “abstracting complicated curvilinear outlines into straight lines and angles”, Bargue, as Gerald Ackerman puts it, is “making it something measurable”. Today’s key champions of Bargue (artists who adhere to the practice of accurately measured “sight-size” drawings) hold that an understanding of form will arise from such accurate and checkable (map-like) plotting of successive points and angles. While true to a degree, the practice generates an impoverished understanding of form – impoverished because it derives from an essentially pictorial exercise on a flat surface that is conducted from a rigorously fixed point in relation to the “model” when form exists in the round and offers infinitely changing aspects to a mobile viewer.

Bargue’s corpus is massively impressive and graphically brilliant but it confers an air of accuracy that may be spurious and it sometimes spawns slackly curvaceous outlines and lazily rounded shading that says little of internal structures (- see Fig. 22 below). Sometimes Bargue contrives a still-angular, facetted outline in his second-stage drawings and these impart a “cut-out photograph” quality, as on the entirely shaded life-cast of a young woman’s head as at Fig. 9, bottom.

On the Bargue v. Julien dichotomy, Ackerman holds: “In both, the drawing is excellent, tight and accurate. However, the proliferation of hatching in Julien’s example confuses the relationships of the various volumes of the face. Bargue works tonally, logically progressing from light to dark. The result is a greater range of value from black to white, providing more drama, unity and volume. It’s almost as if Julien were emphasizing the decorative aspects of the antique bust as opposed to Bargue’s stress on the sculptural qualities.” We take issue with this last claim.

Above, Fig. 10, Bargue’s sheet of a cast sculpture, “Faustine” (the Roman empress Faustina), here mirrored in alignment with the eye of “La Bella”, top left. Before addressing Ackerman’s reading, consider the relationships of the eyes of “La Bella” and van Megeeren’s self-portrait, top right, and with Bargue’s sketch and final shaded stage. By comparison with van Megeeren’s graphic subtlety, fluidity and richness, the author of “La Bella’s” eye seems trapped within the preliminary sketching vocabulary – as at bottom left in the first Bargue “plate of instruction”. Against Bargue’s second stage eye rendering, “La Bella” not only lacks tonal fluidity and coherence, it looks superimposed upon the uncertain forms of “La Bella’s” head.

The lower line and line/shaded sequence above at Fig. 11 by Julien is also of the Faustine cast, albeit from a different view and not showing the whole head. Ackerman suspects that Julien’s refined, linear neo-classical style incurred official disfavour and that its more elaborate stylized refinement might have been considered to make impractical models for the teaching of basic drawing skills. While such judgements may well have been the case we take Julien’s graphic qualities and legacy to have been significantly underestimated – and perhaps especially so with Picasso, as discussed below.

In general terms and with regard to working artists’ methods, it is a moot point whether prior sketching with exclusively straight lines is a necessary or helpful step towards the imperative end of drawing accurately with curved lines and contours. Why delay engagement with an essential skill by erecting a conceptually complicating two-stage graphic means, like a music teacher who advises pupils to get the notes right first and then put the expression in later? Bargue’s two-stage pedagogic model is nowhere found in working artists’ practices and we should not be intimidated by the sheer beauty and descriptive power of Julien’s Faustina. His subtle precisely curving lines confer not only great elegance of drawing and design but hard, precise, well-organised information and great sculptural clarity.

The three photo-inserts, above at Fig. 12, highlight the incompatibility of “La Bella’s” slightly wayward, downcast, sideways glancing, thick angular-lidded eye with either a true classical portrait’s eye, or those drawn by Leonardo.

At Fig. 13 above we see, left, Bargue’s second stage depiction of a cast of The Capitoline Ariadne, left, and Julien’s Faustina, right. This is a prime example of Bargue’s forceful graphic combination of crisply decisive shapes and a rich tonal spectrum of shading. In depicting the forms of the hair, Bargue seems to luxuriate in tonal variety for reasons more painterly than sculptural. His decoratively shaped discrete tonal values resemble Vermeer’s treatments of drapery, as above left. In contrast, Julien’s account of the hair is sculpturally pellucid. His shading escalates gently to a degree that supplements, not obscures, the precise linear description. Although only part-drawn, his head seems as crisply carved as a classical sculpture and as plastically coherent as a column capital through his scrupulously observed face and neck articulation. Julien’s lighter tonal notations perfectly capture the neck’s anatomical forms where Bargue’s heavier more uniform tones evoke an unfortunate rounded softness of a pig’s trotter.

PICASSO’S DUAL ENGAGEMENT

At Fig. 1, we contrasted “La Bella’s” masonry-like forms with two Julien sheet eyes copied by the eleven year-old Pablo Picasso and attached to that drawing a pair of Julien eyes that might have been taken as the young artist’s models were it not for the smooth transition from nose to eyebrow in the right-hand drawing where that transition was shown furrowed by Picasso. Further searching (- see Fig. 15 below) revealed that the particular Julien sheet Picasso had copied contained three line drawings of a woman’s left eye as seen in profile, in three-quarters view and head-on (and with three shaded versions of the same). Here above at Fig. 14 we place the eleven-year old’s eyes above a mirrored detail of the forty-year old Picasso’s pastel Head of a Woman made at Fontainebleu with superimposed details of Picasso’s 1921 pastel, Two Women with Hats and a 1683 engraving by Gerard Audran of Features of the Pythian Apollo.

Picasso had copied the Julien eyes under the guidance of his father at the Instituto da Guarda in La Coruña. His copy of the two eyes is, as Joan P. Uraneck noted in the August 2003 Burlington Magazine, (“Picasso’s ‘Two views of a left eye’, of 1892-93: a recent discovery”) one of seven surviving sheets the eleven-year old made – with four from Bargue. Uraneck sees a “remarkable resemblance” between Picasso’s juvenile copy of Julien eyes and his neo-classical work of the 1920s, and she reproduces one of the studies (above Fig. 15, top left) for Picasso’s Three women at the fountain. The main top image here is an ink transcription (made by this author as part of a suite of classical heads from antiquity onwards) of another of the Fontainebleu Picasso pastels, the Head of a Woman, Fondation Beyeler, Basel, which starred in the Frick Collection’s 2011 “Picasso’s Drawings, 1890-1921 exhibition”. At the time of drawing I had known nothing of Julien’s work but had been struck by the opacity in the eyes of Head of a Woman and especially so in comparison with eyes of a Graeco-Egyptian encaustic portrait a woman as below at Fig. 16. Today, that opacity is the more intriguing when we know of the astonishing vivacity of Julien’s eyes – as above and as in the bottom detail at Fig. 16. What we do not know is how many Julien sheets Picasso had seen and copied but given that he was being taught by his artist father we might safely assume that he had seen and produced appreciably more than seven such copies.

Uraneck’s discovery is intriguing: could Picasso have summoned the suite of monumental heads seen below (Fig. 17) in the Pushkin Museum’s invaluable photograph of Olga Picasso in the studio at Fontainebleu in 1921 without exposure to Julien’s fastidious intelligent studies? By the same token, had copying Bargue’s “analytical” first sketches (as with his Homer below) implanted a conceptual schema or template for a Cubist deconstruction/reconstruction of figures? Or, even: had Picasso’s simultaneous exposure to two powerful conflicted pedagogical programmes at a tender, highly susceptible age left him artistically like a dog between two bones – never fully able to decide which kind of artistic voice to adopt?

In Fig. 18 above, it might look at a casual glance as if the same drawing has been reproduced twice on differently coloured grounds. In fact, that on the left is Bargue’s second stage study of an antique torso and that on the right is a copy made by Picasso when only twelve. This drawing is sometimes cited as a proof that the young Picasso was able to draw as well as Raphael and had needed to learn how to throw off his classical manacles. Although Picasso has replicated Bargue’s disposition of dark, mid and light tones with great precocity and therefore seemingly succeeded in producing a striking copy of the “model” drawing before him, the drawing contains elementary errors.

Despite having the two states of Bargue before him, Picasso greatly exaggerated every subtle movement and shift of direction in the torso’s right-hand contour. In Fig 20 above we subject the two versions to identical simple checks on proportion and alignment and soon discover an accumulation of egregious errors. Picasso was not attentive to the “architecture” of the design or to the placement of the cast’s torso on the rectangular plinth which Bargue set on a slight diagonal that runs away from the viewer. Projecting the bottom left and top right edges of Bargue’s base (as with the blue lines) imparts a perspective in which the vanishing point gives a horizon line that crosses the torso at about one third of its height. Projecting the same edges in the Picasso copy sets the horizon at chest height. The dotted red central vertical line in the Bargue version shows subtle counter sways in the upper and lower parts of the torso that are broadly balanced and give a securely composed symmetry within the figure. Picasso, seemingly mesmerised by the seductively dramatic powers of shading, loses sight of the torso’s taught musculature and allows his own reading of too-large and too-soft forms to sway precariously to (our and his) right – and to bulge at the left hip. Michelangelo said that his compasses were in the eye. If at any stage Picasso had dropped a plumb-line in his mind’s eye from the point where the right arm parts company with the torso down towards the cast’s base he would have seen immediately how badly his figure was listing.

BENCHMARK DRAWINGS

Bargue had not invented the schema of a strongly outlined figure with one side brightly lit and the other heavily shaded. At Fig. 20 below stands one of the most graphically and sculpturally masterful combinations of line and tones ever to be dropped onto a sheet of paper – Benvenuto Cellini’s awesome Juno.

In 1980, some years after first encountering Cellini’s Juno, I paid homage to his graphic/sculptural dispositions in a section of a pen and ink drawing (“Male Chauvinist Pig and the Object of His Desire”) as above right at Fig. 21, albeit establishing the lit side not with a line but with a tonal distinction. In 1996 David Lee, then editor of the Art Review, challenged six people (John Ward RA; Michael Kenny RA; Timothy Clifford, then Director, National Galleries of Scotland; Oliver Berggruen, old master drawings dealer; Michael Daley, AWUK, and Leonard McComb RA, then Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools) to say in under two hundred words each of what Good Drawing consists. I pitched for technical drawing in part as a polemical antidote to then current art school practices (see below) on the firm conviction that participation in a short crash course in technical drawing would do more to improve standards of drawing than anything else. Technical drawings have to be clear, comprehensible, coherent and unambiguous because they trade in objectively verifiable facts. Such is their precision and authority that they can – and often do – form part of legal contracts.

Fast forward a century from the competing talents of Bargue and Julien to State art schools in Britain. By this time, insofar as drawing was encouraged or permitted, it was under the empty rubric “Mark Making” and its brain-dead twinned invitation to “Explore Marks” – as, for example, in this sadly characteristic art school directive:

“At the end of this project the student will be involved in drawing in a creative way and not consider it as a mechanical function carried out somewhere at the end of his hand. In this studio the project is devised to increase the student’s experience of drawn marks and of drawing techniques. To do this a varied selection of drawing implements are used, e. g. sponge, sticks, stones, finger, hand, hair, glass marbles, string, pencil, pen, brush, etc…e. g. Drawing with a glove on – with the glove filled with small stones – with the glove having two fingers knotted – with the glove filled with sand – with various kinds of gloves e. g. industrial gloves to supple cricket gloves…e. g. Drawing on a sheet placed on a board which is suspended from the ceiling by rope. Trying to draw a controlled mark on this swinging surface. Using the same board but having two students drawing, one on each side influencing each other’s marks…e. g. Drawing through visual restrictions: through glasses, glasses with dots painted on them – through smoked glass – with one eye covered – wearing a gas mask – with strings obstructing vision – with moving strings doing the same (using a hair dryer to blow the strings). Drawing in a dark room. Drawing with hand under water…e. g. Physical restrictions: with one arm tied to the shoulder using the mouth to hold the implement…etc. etc.”

Above, Fig. 22, one of Bargue’s weaker, more slackly drawn sheets.

In London, from the beginning of the Second World War, The Studio magazine published an extensive series of “How to draw…” books that channelled lessons derived from Bargue–Gèrôme, Julien and others in the simplest, most direct manner. In Fig. 23, above, a suite of introductory drawings is shown from Leonard W. Sharpe’s 1945 How to Draw Merchant Ships. Sharpe begins with a sermon on the marriage of technical necessities and poetry in ships: you must know the what and the why before you can appreciate ships and hope to draw them successfully. Sharpe’s first lesson was to understand the sheer (the curvature in side elevation) of a ship’s hull. To aid buoyancy in driving seas, the forward sheer needs to be greater than that of the after sheer – less lift is required against a sea that is following a vessel. The creation of this vital seaworthiness is not just a matter of maritime efficacy: “A good designer arranges the design of his ship…handsomely so as to ‘take the eye’…the hull is a combination of exceedingly graceful curves which could very well be described as ‘poetry in steel’, particularly when seen from the bow or quarter.” Sharpe, like Julien, assumes a novice draughtsman’s willingness to master curves. Until recently every ship in the world had been an orchestration of curves. To the sheer is added the flare at the bow “so that heaving waves are flung outwards instead of cascading in full force onto the deck”.

CLOTH EYES AND SCHOLARLY CLOSED SHOPS

Sharpe’s comments were underpinned by his drawn sketch demonstrations. As seen in Fig. 23 above, top, he made two drawings of a nominal hull to illustrate different types of shading. No one looking at the pair would likely suspect that Sharpe had been the author of only one of the drawings. Looking at the above two details of ink sketches that carry a bent female arm, how many would feel just as confidently that these are the work of the same artist (Rubens) working at the same time (c. 1610 and c. 1608-12, respectively) in the same medium (pen, ink, paper)? Both drawings were included as autograph in Julius Held’s canonical 1959 work Rubens – Selected Drawings. We catalogued a stream of alarm calls in September 2014 (“Art’s Toxic Assets and a Crisis of Connoisseurship”):

The arm on the left belongs to a supposed Rubens ink sketch for the painting of Samson and Delilah that is given to Rubens by the National Gallery even though a director of the gallery admitted that it does not look like any other of the many Rubens’s held. If by Rubens, this ink sketch would be the only one framed on the paper by an ink box that severs part of one of Samson’s feet – an anomaly in Rubens that is also found in the National Gallery’s Samson and Delilah painting. Like “La Bella Principessa”, this drawing (which bears the inked initials “V.D.”) emerged only in the 20th century – 1926 – from a Dutch firm of antiquaries (a family member of whom was a graphic artist) when it was sold as a van Dyck. Contemporary copies of the (long-lost) original Rubens Samson and Delilah painting showed that Samson’s toes had not been cropped at the edge of the painting. The ink sketch had been authenticated by the esteemed Rubens scholar Ludwig Burchard very shortly before he also authenticated the then recently discovered Samson and Delilah painting that is now in the National Gallery and is there paraded on the website as one of the Gallery’s “not-to-be-missed” paintings. In his 1930 certificate of authenticity for this painting, Burchard said the picture was in excellent condition and even retained its panel’s original back. Following a restoration at the National Gallery it was reported that the original back had disappeared sometime in the late 19th century or early 20th century when the panel had been planed down to wafer thinness and glued onto a sheet of blockboard. As reported in our 2006 Journal No. 21, over sixty Burchard attributions had subsequently been down-graded in Corpus Rubenianum.

The second stage of the Bargue course consisted of his copies of exemplary, taste-conferring models found among great artists’ drawings. The stunning drawing above (detail) at Fig. 24 is by Bargue after a (now lost) drawing by Adolphe-William Bouguereau (1825-1905). Ackermann congratulates Bargue for replicating the character and manner of a great variety of artists. Of this (near-profile) drawing entitled A Roman Woman (Femme romaine) he observes:

“It is a wonder, displaying a marvellous balance between the observation of a realist and the ideals of a classicist. Bouguereau is more concerned with anatomy than some of the other masters. The bony appearance of her nose, the sunken eyes and cheeks, and the thickness of her neck are qualities he describes so accurately that it places the woman in her late forties, at not quite overripe maturity. The outline is elegantly, sensitively drawn by means of a line that continually changes its thickness or emphasis as it gives sensitivity to the nose and lips, strength to the chin, and fullness to the neck. The hair is complex without being detailed. In this drawing Bouguereau is an absolute master of the Academic realist drawing technique, a mixture of observation, knowledge and ideals.”

As with “La Bella”, in this (near-) profile portrait the eye has a downward cast, sideways glancing eye with a thick and facetted lower lid. Is it conceivable that Leonardo, in a single out-of-character work, should have anticipated a means of drawing encountered in one 19th century artist’s copy of another 19th century artist’s work?

HIGH STAKES

In our view, if the scholars who still hold that Leonardo made both of the eyes and both of the faces above (and at the same art historical moments) were to prevail, the parameters of the artist’s oeuvre would be so greatly elasticised as to undermine international art market credibility, which credibility has already been rocked by the recent spate of exposed fake modern and fake old master paintings.

Michael Daley, Director, 18 January 2020


Hollow Gods and Dangerous Beauty

With museum and gallery visits becoming ever-more crowded noisy expensive and denuded of works loaned, in needless restorations, or stored as directors play developers as well as impresarios, the appeal of small venues grows. Bury Street in St James’s is buzzing with two (free) exhibitions, one light on drawings, one rich.

A principal delight of the non-museum/gallery sector is un-trailed and unanticipated cross-fertilisation. Until 13 December, Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert is showing Eduardo Paolozzi (Hollow Gods – Sculpture and Collage from 1946-1960) and, hard after its “From Michelangelo to Matisse: Five Centuries of Drawing”, Colnaghi is running (until 24 January) a big and various show, “Dangerous Beauty” – dangerous because themed on “the seductive beauty of the female form” at a time when “women around the world are claiming back the right to be represented without male filters”.

Above, Fig. 1: Left, Paolozzi’s 1947 Fragment einer Grabstele aus Lokris, detail; right, Colnaghi’s Karl Parsons 1933 pencil drawn Patricia.

Where the Paolozzi show is, as its title indicates, light on drawings, the Beauty Show is especially rich and the Parsons drawing itself constitutes a dangerous revelation in one rumbling art political context discussed below.

It was something of a shock to realise just how historic – and overdue – this (nicely catalogued) Paolozzi survey is. For nearly two decades after the Second World War the sculptor was quintessentially modish and acclaimed as an intellectually and formally invigorating force. Rich in friendships with rising modernist critics and architects, Paolozzi was unusually cosmopolitan being of Italian parents in Scotland, spending time in Paris imbibing Picasso, Klee, Giacometti, Dubuffet and admiring Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning, Leon Golub, Germaine Richier, Richard Stankeiwicz and Alberto Burri. In due course he, like many British sculptors, became an art fashion casualty of the all-conquering hard-line “concrete” formalist vocabularies forged by the St Martins School which grouping was held for a while to comprise Britain’s Greatest Sculptors since the Middle Ages. The self-impoverishment of that school’s stance – effectively, that material bears its own message – left space for Paolozzi, like Henry Moore before him, to become the leading producer of Grand Civic Sculpture and, even, to uphold the figurative banner. The Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert show demonstrates how much was lost when Paolozzi abandoned his fugitive evocatively battered but upstanding early figurative explorations for more decorative printed graphics (- sometimes veering on the psychedelic), design and large-scale architectural productions.

Strictly-speaking, Paolozzi was neither a traditional draughtsman nor a traditional sculptor. He did not carve, model or even fabricate. Rather, he scavenged, appropriated and re-assembled. From childhood he had been an avid, omnivorous reader and collector of illustrated books, comics, advertisements, sports, health and technical manuals. Amidst the world’s plethora of reproduced images and mechanical objects he showed a distinct nose and sympathy for the paradigmatic force of classical sculpture’s now-fragmentary figures, busts, bases, pedestals and so forth. It is possible that he was alerted to classical art – as well as to badges, uniforms and aeroplanes – when sent by his father to summer in fascist youth camps in Italy.

Above, Fig. 2: Left, A Group of Gauls, collage, pencil and wash, 1947; right, the Discobolus of the Castel Porziano, collage and ink wash, 1946.

Above, Fig. 3: Left, top, Untitled, collage, 1946; above left, Small Monument, 1956, unique bronze, H 13 inches (33 cm); second left, Figure with Raised Arm, 1955, bronze, H 18 inches (46.5 cm); third left, Robot, bronze, H 19 inches (48.5 cm); right, Figure, 1957, bronze, H 48 inches (123 cm).

CUTTING AND ASSEMBLING

Above, Fig. 4: Left, Untitled, 1948, collage, 37 x 24 cm; right, The Return, 1954, collage, pencil and gouache, 13 x 10 inches.

Paolozzi’s witty mini-essay on monuments at Fig. 3 caught the eye of Henry Moore, who bought it. The collaged Untitled image above left might easily be taken today as a trenchant visual synopsis for the “Mad Men” TV series but in the UK’s impoverished food-rationed and punitively-taxed post-war years American affluence had yet to become a source of self-loathing shame and Paolozzi’s collaged image might better be seen as an innocent celebratory act of awe and wonderment. His affection for the United States famously (and influentially) extended to its popular culture and especially to its movies which he saw not as sources of harvestable imagery but as “direct experience” to be lived. Boris Karloff, The Mummy’s Hand and Frankenstein were, however, acknowledged to have “supplied a thread in his beat-up human image.”

As late as 1957, Paolozzi saw the United States as offering more to an artist than the Mediterranean. However, with The Return, above right (and other such graphic collages) a darker colder side emerges. Slicing up images – particularly images of faces – and reconfiguring them to misaligned satirical intent is not cuddly. Much later, in the 1980s, Paolozzi would carry the cutting and reconfiguring into grander more conventionally realised sculptures whose forms were clearly delineated by an otherwise continuous surface skin. Those late dismembering exercises seemed free of sadistic intent and to be deployed more to impart a formal dynamism than any expressive or symbolic purpose. Nonetheless, slicing up and recomposing images or effigies of human faces and heads is inherently unsettling and question-raising. Does the enlarged, flattish circular head of Paolozzi’s St Sebastian at Fig. 7 below allude to a sun/halo or an archer’s target board?

Above, Fig. 5: Left, top, a Paolozzi self-portrait made as an eleven-year old schoolchild; left, above, Paolozzi’s 1953 ink drawing Self-portrait; second left, a 1961 drawing for the sculpture Tyrannical Tower Crowned with Thorns of Violence – and as realised at the National Galleries of Scotland, above, far right; third left a photo-collage of 1946.

AUTHENTICITY IN AN ERA OF UNIVERSALLY HARVESTABLE AND REPLICABLE IMAGES

Above, Fig. 6: Above, top, Paolozzi’s 1947 photo-collage Fragment einer Grabstele aus Lokris shows the artist at full throttle. The limited means – just three “lifted” images – is classically restrained: a cheesecake pin-up of the kind that had recently graced millions of soldiers war-time lockers and kit bags; an eloquent fragment of antique carving speaking of lost civilisations; and, as representative of the future and increasing well-being, an item of machinery that perfectly mimics Western modernist artists self-consciously cultish appreciation of African masks. Today, we make what we may be permitted of this nicely triangulated homage but sparks still fly and engage with other art – as with the above famous 1926 Paris Vogue Man Ray portrait of Kiki de Montparnasse.

The Man Ray photograph had found echoes before Paolozzi, as above in the 1942 promotional/glamour photograph of Lana Turner by Eric Carpenter (which is preceded by Ingres’ pencil copy of Leonardo’s painted portrait known as La belle ferronnière ). In the 2000 Hollywood Portraits book by Roger Hicks and Christopher Nisperos, the authors raise questions of authenticity in photography-as-art. While Carpenter’s “chiaroscuro is striking”, they seem to complain, “there is much retouching in this picture. Most of what we see between the actress and the statue looks like airbrushing, particularly the shadow next to her cheek, but the keyline on the chin is genuine and beautifully executed – a reflection from the background…the profile is masterful, and the canting of the camera – a popular device at the time – is all but essential: it places the main subject’s face at a more attractive angle and greatly reduces the apparent mass of the statue, which otherwise might dominate the composition. The principal tricks in re-creating this picture are, first, the very careful control of the chiaroscuro; second, the angled camera; and third, diligent and extensive retouching…” (For Hicks and Nispero’s further views on the role and means of retouching, see “Coming to Life: Frankenweenie – A Black and White Michelangelo for Our Times” .)

With the many technical and professional advances in photography and cinema – not least digitalisation – and the widely indulged licence to tamper -the boundaries between art (where images are made) and photography (where images are taken) are clearly weakening. Practical problems follow: can steps be taken to prevent or even identify the illicit manufacture of perfectly deceiving facsimiles of bona fide works? As Dalya Alberge discloses, Man Ray’s iconic Kiki de Montparnasse image exists in more versions than should be the case – “Fake Man Ray prints are hanging on museum and collectors’ walls, leading specialist warns”.

CLASSICAL TENACITY

Above, Fig. 7: In this fast moving and problematic technical world, the simultaneous appearance within a hundred yards of Paolozzi’s 1957 bronze St Sebastian IV and Karl Parsons’ 1933 pencil drawn Patricia came as a jolt. We all well know of Paolozzi’s art but how many knew of Parsons’ society portrait drawings? The two works above left and centre might seem worlds and eons apart but where Paolozzi was thirty-three years old when he made his St Sebastian at a time when traditional art school practices were crumbling, he was nine years old when the forty-nine year old Parsons drew Patricia (in what would be the last year of his life). Parsons had attended some classes at the Central School of Arts & Crafts in London but essentially learned his craft in the doing – that is, in the time-honoured role of apprentice to a successful working master, in his case, to the leading Arts and Crafts Movement stained glass maker, Christopher Whall. Parsons went on to carry out major commissions for the windows of Canterbury, Gloucester, Cape Town and Johannesburg cathedrals. Beyond that rigorous training and high-level artistic practice, Parsons all the while had at his back centuries of tradition – it is not fanciful to see a direct line from Michelangelo’s monumental painted profile from the Sistine Chapel ceiling’s Erythraean Sibyl (here mirrored, above right) to Parson’s modest (15 by nearly 12 inches) monogrammed profile portrait in pencil on paper.

Above, Fig. 8: Colnaghi’s larger, mixed show happens to contain a mini-exhibition of modern (traditional) female profile portraits drawn on paper. First, above left, is Augustus John’s 1907 portrayal in black chalk of his mistress/muse/mother figure, Dorelia McNeill, who at sixteen had edited a magazine called The Idler. Second left, is Gerard Leslie Brockhurst’s pencil on paper portrayal, Anais. The Parsons drawing’s sitter is considered most likely to be Patricia Frances, Lady Strauss. A vintage National Portrait Gallery photograph of her (by Bert Sachsel), from the late 1930s or early 1940s, as above right, displays striking facial similarities, as well as the same hairstyle. Patricia, an author and politician who stood unsuccessfully for the Labour Party in Kensington South at the 1945 General Election, married George Strauss, MP, in 1932, and became Lady Strauss in 1979. A significant patron of both the performing and the visual arts, she led a campaign to persuade the government to use half a percent of the cost of all new buildings for works of art and pioneered the first international sculpture exhibition in Battersea Park. (In the 1963 Battersea sculpture show Paolozzi exhibited along with Henry Moore, Kenneth Armitage, Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Geoffrey Clarke, Bernard Meadows, William Turnbull and others.)

Above, Fig. 9: Top, two stained glass heads by Karl Parsons; above, left, Paolozzi’s 1953 self-portrait, and, above, right, one of his 1980s ink on tracing paper studies of the architect Richard, now Lord, Rogers. More than half a century and the Second World War stands between the above two pairs of images. The chasm of artistry and draughtsmanship between Parsons and Paolozzi in these works might seem painful to contemplate. Looking at these images today, who eclipsed whom artistically? The principal charge against Arts and Crafts depictions was of a perceived saccharine sweetness and sentimentality. Was the suppression of such traits best or necessarily made by evocations of psychic derangement and a drawn proposal for a combined scalping and splitting of an identifiable person’s effigy bust? Are we still forbidden to admire the remarkable artistry and sheer force of expression in Parsons public works?

Above, Fig. 10: Left, “La Bella Principessa”, a mixed media drawing attributed to Leonardo; right, Karl Parson’s Patricia.

In the pairing above, we see either Parsons pitted against a newly discovered (that is, a claimed) Leonardo drawing of a princess, or – as we believe – two possibly near-contemporaneous twentieth century works. The emergence of Parson’s pencil-drawn Patricia (above right) coincides with a near decade-long campaign of advocacy on behalf of the (unsold) supposed-Leonardo portrait of a short-lived Milanese princess, Bianca Sforza (above left), that Professor Martin Kemp dubbed “La Bella Principessa”. The drawing was so attributed in knowledge that this profile portrait type has been assailed by modern forgeries: “Complications for the historian lie both in the fact that the subjects of most female portraits are no longer identifiable and that, because of their exceptional decorative and historical appeal, such portraits were highly sought after by later nineteenth- and early twentieth-century collectors, encouraging a market for copies, fakes and over-ambitious attributions” – Alison Wright, The Pollaiuolo Brothers, Yale University Press, 2005.

Above, Fig. 11: Left, the (mirrored) obverse of a bronze medal of c. 1486 attributed to Niccolo Fiorentino; right, four 15th century paintings judged most likely by the Polliauolo brothers, Antonio (figures 1 and 4) and Piero (figures 2 and 3). We mentioned a link between Parsons and Michelangelo. In truth, Parsons’ Patricia may intentionally have referenced the earlier (15th century) archaising profile portrait tradition with paintings made in emulation of classical relief portraits found on antique coins.

Since its first appearance as a prospective Leonardo drawing, we have suspected “La Bella Principessa” to be a work of the 20th century. The fakes-generating popularity of the profile-lady type of which Alison Wright spoke is attested in Fig. 12 above, where we see that in the early years of the 20th century, Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s Profile of a Woman seems to have enjoyed position as an exemplar of the 15th century profile portrait type wherein, as Ingres noted, “Never is a woman’s neck too long”.

TRUE TO TYPE?

Above, Fig. 13: We take all three works in the top tier to be modern productions and all four works in the bottom row to be not only bona fide 15th century paintings but, in the case of Antonio Polliauolo’s Profile of a Woman in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan (as in the fourth and fifth images) the most popular version of a most popular type. For those wishing to make modern versions, Polliauolo’s Milan profile seems to have been taken almost as a template because of its great attractiveness and because its rather truncated composition greatly minimises the work needed properly to depict a richly and elaborately costumed torso (– as seen below at Fig. 14). The authors of all three versions in the top tier have taken short cuts and depicted implausible costumes.

The picture on the left was bought in 1936. The picture in the centre first appeared in 1998 – 502 years after its presently-claimed execution. The figure on the right was last seen in a book published in the 1940s. It then disappeared and its whereabouts are now unknown.

The first picture was bought by the Detroit Institute of Arts as by Andrea del Verrocchio or Leonardo da Vinci. It was recently exposed as an outright fake: it contains modern pigments and it was painted on top of a photograph – see “Art’s Toxic Assets and a Crisis of Connoisseurship ~ Part II: Paper (sometimes photographic) Fakes and the Demise of the Educated Eye”

The “La Bella Principessa” drawing emerged without provenance and anonymously as the property of a lady in 1998 at Christie’s, New York, where it was sold as a 19th century German work for $22, 850 to a dealer who sold it on in 2007 for $19,000 to its present owner. Its advocates have said of tests on the vellum: “This dating confirms that the portrait could well have been made in Leonardo’s lifetime, supporting Martin Kemp’s proposed date in the mid-1490s and virtually eliminating the possibility that it is a 19th century pastiche.” “Confirming” a “could well have been” is double-speak which itself rests on only a loose and wide overall estimation of probabilities. It was not acknowledged that within the overall figure, the probabilities had been greatly more precisely quantified. While the report states that there was a 68.2% probability that the sheet was made between 1470 and 1650, within that period there was only a 27.2% probability that the drawing was made between 1470 and 1530 – whereas there was an appreciably greater probability (41.0%) that the sheet was made some time between 1550 and 1650. Had the vellum been made at any point after 1496, when the work is claimed to have been executed by Leonardo, the attribution would sink. Moreover, even if the sheet had existed before 1496 that would not establish the date of the drawing’s execution: in The Art Forger’s Handbook Eric Hebborn explained that a prime source of old materials is obtained from blank end papers in books.

Above, Fig. 14: Left, Pollaiuolo’s Profile of a Woman; second left, “La Bella Principessa”; third left, Portrait of Bianca Maria Sforza, c. 1493, by Ambrogio de Predis, The National Gallery of Art, Washington; right, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, (1488) Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

It is striking in this comparison with three secure paintings how dull and underpowered the work is and how (relatively) impoverished is the appearance now-claimed subject, Bianca Sforza, the short-lived illegitimate daughter of Il Moro, the Duke of Milan. The subject third left is said to be Bianca Maria Sforza, Bianca Sforza’s cousin. In the catalogue to the (London) National Gallery’s 2011-12 Leonardo exhibition Arturo Galansino said of Bianca Maria’s portrait that the artist’s focus on the sumptuous clothes testified to the luxury of “the most opulent court in Italy”. How credible can it be that the strikingly impoverished, jewellery-free image of Bianca had been commissioned in celebration of the wedding of the Duke’s own daughter to a powerful ally? Martin Kemp has hedged against this implausibility with a suggestion that the portrait might, instead, have been a memorial record made after her death: “It may be that the restraint of her costume and the lack of jewellery indicate that the portrait was destined for a memorial rather than a matrimonial volume”.

Above, Fig. 15: Top, a detail of Leonardo’s portrait La belle ferronnière, the Louvre; above, a detail of “La Bella Principessa”.

DRAWN FROM LIFE OR MADE AFTER DEATH?

Above, Fig. 16: Left, Pollaiuolo’s Profile of a Woman; centre, “La Bella Principessa”; right, Leonardo’s Portrait of Isabella d’Este, of c. 1500 in the Louvre Museum (- here mirrored).

Forgers and pasticheurs alike are obliged to make their works resemble secure works of a given artist and period. On the hypothesis that “Bianca/La Bella Principessa” was likeliest a work of the late 19th, early 20th century, how might the present image have been generated? Making one that resembled Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s, Profile of a Woman in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, as above left, would be sure to strike a reassuring stylistic and period chord. If the aim was to make a work of that archaising type that looked as if made by Leonardo, then a forger could also make use of one or other of the few female strict profile drawings that Leonardo made. If we place the face of “La Bella Principessa” between those of Pollaiuolo and Leonardo’s drawing of Isabella d’Este, as above, then a most striking hybrid emerges: feature by feature, “La Bella Principessa” hovers between the Pollaiuolo painting and the Leonardo drawing – as with, for example, a more upturned nose and pronounced “over-bite” projection at the upper lip than is seen in the Leonardo. A single feature only – the eye – does not conform to this two-way accommodation: “La Bella Principessa’s” eye is unlike either of those present in the other two works.

THE EYE IN THE OINTMENT

Above, Fig. 17: Left, a detail of “La Bella Principessa”; centre, a detail of the Karl Parsons Patricia; right, a drawing made by Michael Daley for the Independent newspaper (in illustration of the creation of a new rose).

In this comparison it can be seen clearly how “La Bella Principessa’s” eye breaks with the convention of classical profile portraits in which the eye is always shown looking straight ahead and never looking downwards or sideways. It should not be possible within the perspective conventions of the strictly profile face for the viewer to see the thickness of the lower eyelid. In the Daley rose drawing, the lower eyelid is also clearly visible but that is because a) the face is not seen in strict profile (both edges of the nasal channel are visible) and, b) the head is tipped downwards. As will be seen, the anomalous treatment of “La Bella Principessa’s” eye constitutes a disqualification.

Above, Fig. 18. When Karl Parsons’ eye of Patricia is placed as above top left, we see distinct similarities of curvature and the same forward looking gaze with the eye drawn by Leonardo shown in the top right. Once again, in the company of Parsons and Leonardo, “La Bella’s” eye (top centre) is a glaring odd-one-out with its straight-edged, planar manner of drawing. That very manner was commonly inculcated among art students at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century – as in the instructive published diagram seen above, centre right. Such an angular manner of drawing is nowhere to be found in Leonardo or his contemporaries, whereas, one can see distinct traces of that manner in the drawing of the male eyes above where features that would be drawn with curves by Leonardo are broken-down into short straight linked lines.

THE MARCHIGS

Above, Fig. 19: Left, a self-portrait drawn by Giannino Marchig in c. 1920 that was published in a journalist’s recent book on the “La Bella Principessa” drawing ( – see “Books on No-Hope Art Attributions”); right, an etching (mirrored) by Giannino Marchig of a lady, possibly his wife, Jeanne Marchig. Again, we see in the etching a draughtsman’s habitual favouring of angular, straight-edged and planar features. Additionally, we again encounter a profile portrait eye that is shown not convincingly set into the forms of the face.

As mentioned, the “La Bella Principessa” was sold anonymously at Christie’s, New York, in 1998. Twelve years later, Jeanne Marchig, the then widow of Giannino Marchig (who had worked as a restorer for Bernard Berenson and had restored a Leonardo painting), identified herself as the vendor in order to claim damages from Christie’s after sensational (but unfounded) reports that fingerprint evidence had proved the drawing to be by Leonardo and therefore to have been worth $100/150 million when sold in 1998.

However, and as we have reported, aside from the widow’s hearsay claims concerning the ownership of the drawing by the painter/restorer, the drawing possesses not a shred of recorded history in its supposed five centuries – and this is so despite prolonged searches made over the last nine years by specialist scholars and journalists. Giannino Marchig, initially a successful artist had hit hard times, became a restorer and an assistant to Bernard Berenson, had grown rich and acquired a collection of valuable historic works, but would not disclose – even to his wife – from whom, where or when he had acquired the drawing. Strenuous attempts by supporters of the Leonardo attribution to show that the drawing had been commissioned by the Duke of Milan for inclusion in a de luxe vellum book in 1496 have failed to find a single record of such a commission.

An early scholarly supporter of the drawing, Cristina Geddo, revealed that research made by penetrating imaging had disclosed that the back of this drawing (which cannot be seen by eye because the vellum sheet is glued onto an oak panel) carries “superimposed numbers…a written inscription…[and a] little winged dragon – at least that is what it seems.” No one has published those features; no one has offered a more detailed account of them or explained why they might have been present on what the drawing’s supporters claim (on no evidence) would have been a blank page in a luxury late 15th century commemorative book.

Above, Fig. 20: Top left, “La Bella Principessa’s” eye; top right, an eye from Leonardo’s painting La belle ferronnière, as seen, top, in an infra-red image that discloses the preparatory drawing for the curving, thin lower eyelid, and below it, the finished eye as painted by Leonardo. To a draughtsman, these eyes are as unlike as chalk and cheese and that of “La Bella Principessa” has nothing in common with any eye seen in Leonardo. It has greater affinities of style and means with the treatment of the eyes in the Juan Gris’ Cubist drawing, bottom left. Ingres’ pencil copy of La belle ferronnière shows how vividly dramatic and alive Leonardo’s eyes can be.

Scholars need not be draughtsmen but none would be harmed by practising drawing – and all would benefit by making copies of the works they address. An eye properly alert to stylistic traits is one capable of performing what we hold to be “forensic looking” (– see “Art forgers face new challenge from hi-tech authenticators”). Colnaghi has performed a service by unearthing Parsons’ Patricia. Unfashionable Arts and Crafts or no, Parsons merits attention, as his arresting portrayal of St. George at Fig. 21 below surely testifies?

Michael Daley, Director, 9 December 2019


From Guido to Boccioni – The Liberation and Repudiation of Classicism

A fascinating and ground-breaking show – Umberto Boccioni: Recreating the Lost Sculptures – centres on four three-dimensional recreations of Boccioni’s lost plaster and mixed media sculptures. This exhibition – running at the Estorick Collection, London, until 22 December – prompts far-reaching technical, artistic and art historical questions.

Above, Fig. 1: Top left, a detail of a 1913 photograph of a lost sculpture Empty and Full Abstracts of a Head with a superimposed reconstructed 3D mesh; top right, Umberto Boccioni, c. 1914; below, a note on the technical means of the presently exhibited recent recovery/replications.

THE TECHNICAL/INTERPRETIVE PROBLEMS

The wizardry whereby old photographic records of lost sculptures were aggregated to produce digitally “virtual”, in-the-round, simulations of sculptures to be printed out or milled in 3D is well-described in an excellent catalogue. This “recovery” or “recreation” of sculptures that were destroyed in 1927 was made by two digital artists and designers, Anders Rådén and Matt Smith.

Above, Fig. 2: Detail of the catalogue cover. Rådén and Smith acknowledge that technical difficulties required a degree of interpretation and creativity in what are necessarily provisional reconstructions: “the discovery of new or better photographs will always necessitate a rethinking of certain shapes”. Inconsistencies of surface finish and sometimes forms emerge between the new simulations and old photographic records – as was also the case with the bronze casts of plaster sculptures made after Boccioni’s death. Such notwithstanding, the authors’ hopes that fresh insights into Boccioni’s sculptural practice will offer new interpretive opportunities for specialists and the general public are not vain: accepted as what they are, even a part-hypothesized proximate and provisional physical recovery of four lost sculptures that were made at a crucial stage of Boccioni’s late development can assist appraisals of the oeuvre of a seminal figure who, personally and professionally speaking, remains problematic.

WHITHER BOCCIONI’S FUTURIST EYE?

Among early 20th century noisy proselytising art movements, Italian Futurists were obnoxious for their ultra-nationalistic, proto-Fascist fervour; their international cultural competitiveness and their affected cults of death and destruction. Speed and industrialization were glorified. War was hymned as the world’s “only true hygiene”. Explosions were likened to flowers. Past artistic glories were excoriated – museums were cemeteries and mausoleums; traditions were contaminations to be excised. Boccioni’s proclaimed terror of being crushed by past cultural attainments triggered his demand that everything had to go: “In the monuments and exhibitions of every European city, sculpture offers a spectacle of such pitiable barbarism, clumsiness and monotonous imitation that my Futurist eye recoils from it with profound disgust!” All nations, he held (Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture, 1912), were being crushed by blind, foolish and cowardly adherence to past cultural attainments that ranged from Greece and Michelangelo to Slavic countries with their “archaic Greek and Nordic and Oriental monstrosities, a shapeless mass of influences that range from the excess of abstruse details deriving from Asia, to the childish and grotesque ingenuity of the Lapps and Eskimos.” Boccioni further complained of “Greek-ized Gothicism sweetened with effeminate care by German pedantry” and saw the public as “scum whom we must lead into slavery”.

This belligerent naughty movement par excellence was doubly parasitical and brazenly hypocritical. A century on, Boccioni’s position is assured. He is in the art history books. His works are in great museums and prosper on the market: on 12 November 2019 a bronze cast of his now iconic Unique Forms of Continuity in Space sold for $16.1 million – appreciably more than the $4.8 million achieved the following day by a recently discovered Artemisia Gentileschi Lucretia – albeit while dramatically less than Jeff Koons’ silvered bunny which made $91 million this year.

A MONUMENTALLY PROVOCATIVE AND MYSTIFYING PROSPECTUS

Above, Fig. 3: Top, Boccioni with his mother, an assistant and, left, Giacomo Balla; below, right, Balla’s head caught in double exposure. Boccioni was nothing if not philosophically and programmatically ambitious: the “means of achieving the complete renewal of this mummified art”, he insisted, would only be possible if “the essence [of Art] itself” were renewed. Constructing with elements drawn from Egypt, Greece, or Michelangelo was like “wanting to draw water from a dry well with a bottomless bucket”. At the same time he (initially and perhaps, even essentially, a painter) betrayed a lack of sculptural self-confidence – even if and when purged of historical contaminations, sculpture would remain subservient to painting which had “taken on a new life, profundity, and breadth through a study of the landscape and the environment, which are made to react simultaneously in relation to human figures or objects, reaching the point of our Futurist INTERPENETRATION OF THE PLANES [Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting, 11 April 1910].” On that deferential prospectus, it was hoped that: “In the same way sculpture will find a new source of emotion, hence of style, extending its plastic quality to what our barbarous crudity has made us think of until now as subdivided, impalpable, and thus plastically inexpressible.”

Above, Fig. 4: Top, the four digitally and plastically reconstituted sculptures, as printed in 1/4 scale, these being, from the left, top: Spiral Expansion of Muscles in Movement; Speeding Muscles; Empty and Full Abstracts of a Head, and Synthesis of Human Dynamism. Below them are: left, Boccioni’s sculpture Synthesis of Human Dynamism as photographed when first constructed in plaster; centre, as part-described in 3D mesh form and part as originally realised; and, right, as when wholly reconfigured by 3D printing.

Above, Fig. 5: Rådén and Smith’s (persuasive) proposed chronological sequence of Boccioni’s four striding figures based on stylistic similarities and evolving shapes – showing, as from 1 to 4, Synthesis of Human Dynamism, Speeding Muscles, Spiral Expansion of Muscles in Movement and Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. This sequence bears witness to a dramatically critical “late period” development (1912-13) in the artist’s short life (he died in 1916 on a military exercise).

What might be said of this evolution? On his own programme, Boccioni sought not to construct sculptural bodies but three-dimensional records of “a body’s action”. He initially worked with multiple materials in an “architecture of the pyramid” which he abandoned for one of “the spiral”. He disclaimed any quasi-cinematographic freezing of discrete figural moments and any notion of an immobile body being set in motion. He expressly postulated an inherently dynamic body – “a truly mobile object, which is an absolutely new and original living reality. In order to represent a body in motion, I do not render its trajectory – that is to say, its passage of one state of rest to another – but strive to capture the form that expresses its continuity in space.” If such an aspiration is thought to have been realised in his Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, it followed much synthesizing of manifestly concrete realisations of forms and trajectories. The authors of this recent exercise in replication have performed great service by fleshing out the photo-record of what was, by any standards, a remarkably swift genesis of an arresting and encapsulating motif. Now that the entire sequence of those figures-in-movement can be comprehended in our own lived spaces, the question arises: What carried Boccioni so very swiftly from Figure 1 to the acclaimed and ambitiously conceived Figure 4?

In 1958 Marianne Martin lauded Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space as a summation of his endeavours and an embodiment of the Futurist ideal of the modern man: “…he is impersonal and unsentimental, clean, clear cut, and disciplined, intelligent but unphilosophical, masculine yet without sexual passion. His strength and capabilities are magnified a hundredfold through science which is conceived by him. He strides majestically and weightlessly on winged feet, forcing ‘the muscles… into streamlined shapes as if under the distorting pressures of supersonic speed’ [Alfred H. Barr Jr.].” Notwithstanding such heroising accounts, the arc of Boccioni’s artistic development betrays indebtednesses at every turn to both his contemporaries and artistic glories of the past against which he railed.

A RAPID STYLISTIC TRANSFORMATION

Above, Fig. 6: From left to right, Aphrodite at the Watering Hole, as featured in the 1961 film The Rebel; Boccioni’s Synthesis of Human Dynamism; George-the-Bear as featured in the 1980s advertising campaign for Hofmeister lager. Boccioni’s assumed “start of sequence” (No. 1) figure, Synthesis of Human Dynamism, is a near-incoherent seeming depiction of a lumbering, part-armoured, part-flayed human figure; a disturbing, mongrel conflation of the deconstructed and reconstructed peppered with penetrating symbolic and literal motifs/devices like a modern day secular St. Sebastian. Rådén and Smith tactfully compare this (and the assumed second figure) unfavourably with the last two figures on account of being: “characterised by a sense of heaviness and complexity of form that renders their ‘movement’ far more staccato” than the latter two in which are eliminated “those extraneous details…such as the hair, nipple and navel…and the architectural elements”. The emphatic navel and nipples and sharply upturned foot are precisely encountered in the 1961 film The Rebel’s spoof-modernist Aphrodite sculpture. Similarly, No. 1’s gait, with its line-ahead feet, see-sawing shoulders and balance-assisting hands anticipated George-the-Bear in the 1980s British Hofmeister beer advertisements.

Body No. 2 effects a huge transition from lumbering horror-film apparition to a racing figure: the head comes down to reduce wind resistance; the feet fly and the leading leg leaves a succession of “before” positions in a bridged supporting triangular wall. The hands and arms are drawn into the now compacted upper body which leans into the motion as if pulling and willing the legs that transport it. The former painfully impacted planes of window frames and such at No. 1 are being digested and incorporated within the body’s armoured architecture.

Quantum leaps occur at No.3. The arms are now as much implicit as sculpturally realised; the legs separate, articulating a wedge of space and with each leg becoming an individual powerhouse of accumulated replications of “musculature” and hard, bony or armoured forms (shin turning into snow plough); the combined forms of the lower legs suggest the pulling power of a dray horse; the figure proceeds in stately purposive fashion as if advising its predecessor “Less Haste, More Speed”. Paradoxically, the legs’ aggregated trajectories congeal into stolid pyramids that root the figure to its base thereby rendering it immobile, arrested and frozen in time. The double breakthrough of interpenetrating space, and a dramatically contracting torso came within a year of the exhibiting of Rodin’s The Walking Man and Archipenko’s six-feet high prepossessing and lucid carved Family Life – Fig. 7, below.

Boccioni’s final figure begins to take flight and vault chasms: the forms thin-down, like those of a carcase left shriven in the sun, and yet stretch, curve and bite on the air like propeller blades. The torso is further de-humanised: the arms are gone; the “head” becomes vestigial, hollowed and mask-like in one aspect. Where, in No. 3, the lower legs are rooted to the base, in No 4 the ‘feet’ are both greatly reduced and perched on blocks, with the resulting elevation implying an imminently airborne state. This figure’s posited/realised rush through the air has seemingly generated stringier, more fluid, less mechanised or armoured forms. Like a gazelle, speed has become its protector and its means of existence.

Above, Fig. 7: Left, Rodin’s The Walking Man; centre, Archipenko’s 1912 Family Life; right, Duchamp-Villon’s 2010 Torso of a Young Man. Although anatomically rooted, Rodin’s figure had been rendered partial and fragmentary, so as concentrate attention on the muscular dynamics of the act of walking – or, more accurately, striding. Where Henry Moore saw a self-conscious attempt to create a classicism-without-associations or historical baggage, Boccioni repudiated classicism outright and denied having taken assistance from other artists, living or dead or from time-sequence multiple images photographs (chronophotography). The supposedly coincidental near-simultaneous occurrence in both Rodin and then Boccioni of a decisively articulated wedge of space between the legs and a ruthless paring of the upper figure simply strains credulity. The Estorick exhibition’s authors and others have noted Boccioni’s eager exposure to the sculptures of Duchamp-Villon, Brancusi and Archipenko – whose superb essay in the unification of diversely scaled and finished rounded/facetted forms on an integral base (as above), could scarcely be thought to have left Boccioni indifferent or untouched. John Golding noted that Boccioni might well have seen his own work as an updating of Duchamp Villon’s 2010 Torso of a Young Man with its truncated limbs and forward-thrusting torso (above, right) but, even more, he had sensed in Boccioni a late-stage repentance and acceptance of an “indigenous Italian and ultimately classicising tradition”.

Certainly, the initial conceptual and plastic clumsiness of Boccioni’s attempted renderings of a purported scientifically-conceived distinctively modern notion of movement compared badly with the verve and lucidity of his more sculpturally competent and focussed contemporaries. If given classical movements can tire and lose their appeal, the extent to which classicism itself has repeatedly proved to be both intrinsically dynamic and irrepressibly enduring should not be overlooked. As will be seen in Part II, consideration of past Italian manifestations of that most long-lived and endlessly various cultural construct would not only likely have proved beneficial to Boccioni’s own formal ambitions, a careful reading of the now once again in-real-space plastic evolution of Boccioni’s “Flying Man” figures, suggests that his now iconic Unique Forms of Continuity in Space might itself better be seen as product and vindication of Classicism, not its avowedly intended Nemesis.

Michael Daley, 26 November 2019


Books on No-Hope Art Attributions

The latest addition to the fast-growing but least-estimable art book publishing genre – The Book of Art Attribution Advocacy – has finally arrived. It comes eight years late and on the second anniversary of Christie’s, New York, 15 November 2017 sale of the formerly attributed-Leonardo, Salvator Mundi picture – which disappeared the following day.

Fig. 1: The above book,Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi & the Collecting of Leonardo in the Stuart Courts, constitutes the first official published account in support of the Salvator Mundi painting that was exhibited as an autograph Leonardo painting at the National Gallery in the 2011-12 exhibition, “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan” (see Fig. 10) and that was sold at Christie’s two years ago for $450 million. The authors are: Margaret Dalivalle, a provenance specialist; Martin Kemp, Professor Emeritus and Leonardo specialist; and, Robert Simon, a New York art dealer and one of the two original buyers of the Salvator Mundi in 2005. The book contains no contributions by those who examined the painting technically and worked on its successive restorations. In their introduction and in defence of these startling omissions, the authors liken their book to a three-act opera: “However it is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject. As with an opera having a grand and intricate plot, this book will consider three facets of the story, each in depth, while necessarily bypassing many ancillary issues.”

There is no mention of the catcalls it has elicited. A glance at the illustrations shows the book to carry a new mystery: there would now seem to have been an undisclosed restoration.

Above, Fig. 2: In this photo-spread, the first image shows the painting as illustrated by the auctioneers in 2005. The second image is said to show the picture as acquired by Robert Simon (and one other) at the auction. The restorer chosen by the new owners was Dianne Dwyer Modestini who worked on the painting in a number of restorations between 2005 and 2017. She has recalled (see Fig. 4) that when the painting was taken to her home in 2005 its surface was still sticky. The painting would thus seem to have been restored at some point after the sale catalogue was prepared and before it was taken to Modestini.

Above, Fig. 3: Simon Hewitt’s long-promised and compendious 2019 book (pp.352), Leonardo da Vinci and the Book of Doom, is written in support of the attributing to Leonardo of a mixed media drawing that was dubbed “La Bella Principessa” by Martin Kemp – and which remains unsold in a Swiss freeport. Now said by Hewitt to have been drawn by Leonardo in 1496 from Bianca Sforza, the illegitimate daughter of “Il Moro”, the 7th Duke of Milan, this book demonstrates – but does not expressly acknowledge – that no record of such a drawing exists before its sale at Christie’s, New York, in 1998 when it was sold as early 19th century German for $22,850 to a New York dealer who sold it on to Peter Silverman in 2007 for $19,000. In 2008 Silverman introduced himself to Hewitt by jumping into his cab saying: “May have a story for you one day! I’ll let you know.” In 2009 Silverman summoned Hewitt to Paris and a facsimile of “La Bella Principessa”. Having taken it at first sight to be early 19th century German, Hewitt produced an article for the Antiques Trade Gazette headed “Is this the greatest art market discovery of the century”.

Above, Fig. 4: Although Dianne Dwyer Modestini’s 2018 memoir, Masterpieces, is not strictly-speaking a book of art attribution advocacy, it contains as an epilogue, a chapter on the Salvator Mundi. In it, Modestini reproduces the photograph of the Salvator Mundi as shown in Fig. 2 above, right, and she describes it as being “as I first saw it in 2005”. We report in the ArtWatch UK Journal No. 32 (p. 47) how Modestini further commented on the picture in Masterpieces:

“When the Salvator Mundi returned to New York in July 2017 ahead of Christie’s November 2017 sale…having been instructed ‘not to inform anyone’ when the painting was ‘delivered to the Conservation Center [of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, where Modestini works as Senior Research Fellow and Conservator of the Kress program in Paintings Conservation] under guard and in great secrecy.’ Modestini writes approvingly of the fact that a deal brokered by Christie’s ahead of the sale whereby the vendor would receive at least $100million ‘was successfully kept under wraps’.”

For that late-stage re-restoration work in 2017, see Dalya Alberge, Mailonline, 22 December 2017, (“Auctioneers Christie’s admit Leonardo da Vinci painting which became the world’s most expensive artwork when it sold for £340m has been retouched in the last five years.”)

Above, Fig. 5: Although Martin Kemp’s 2018 Living with Leonardo is a professional lifetime memoir, he too includes chapters in support of the two Leonardo attributions he has championed – those of the Salvator Mundi and the mixed media drawing he dubbed “La Bella Principessa” that is owned by Peter Silverman – as seen above right. Kemp, like Hewitt, devotes much of his advocacy to attacking critics of the two attributions – including ArtWatch UK’s officers and associates.

Above, Fig.6: Kemp’s publishers, Thames and Hudson, asked to reproduce a four-part graphic (top) which we had published on 3 May 2016 (“Problems with “La Bella Principessa” – Part II: Authentication Crisis”) precisely to demonstrate why, on stylistic grounds, the eye of “La Bella Principessa” could not possibly have been drawn by Leonardo. A crucial part of our cross-linked visual comparisons was an eye from a 19th century sheet of demonstrations to art students on how best to sketch eyes with short, straight lines. When Kemp’s book was published it carried a three-part diagram as shown above and as if it were the four-part one we had published. In Kemp’s reduced graphic, the embarrassing testimony of the guide to students had been omitted.

Above, Figs. 7 and 8: In the top image we show the sheet that had carried the eye which Kemp dropped. In the second image above we show (top) instructions in one of the “How to draw…” books, a guide to students on the relative merits of drawing ducks with curving lines or straight lines. Below it we show an eye drawn by Leonardo, with curving lines, and the eye of “La Bella Principessa”, drawn with straight lines. (As it happens, the eye that Kemp declined to publish is used as the logo for a drawing school – Sight-Size.)

Above, Fig. 9: This book of 2012 is something of a rarity within the genre of advocacy books in that it is written not by a professional art historian or art critic but by the work’s owner. It makes a fascinating and instructive read. We learn from the horse’s mouth, exactly who approached whom and when in the attempted formation of a sufficiency of experts to constitute an art-market “consensus of support”. We learn how Silverman planned his own media campaign to introduce both the work and its assembled supporters to the world. Such inside disclosures and resulting cross-linked accounts of the campaigning, can become sources of friction. In his 2018 memoir Kemp takes Silverman to task in a number of respects. Firstly (p.152), in terms of how the championing of the attribution should best have been managed:

“I had already written an extended report for Peter Silverman – longer than a standard academic article, shorter than a book. What I had seen and what I was gleaning from my continuing research persuaded me to write a book with Pascal [Cotte of Lumière Technology – see Fig. 11]…We also decided to include a short chapter by fingerprint specialist Paul Biro, who compared the inky fingertip with likely Leonardo prints. Ideally, nothing more should have appeared before our book [Kemp and Cotte’s, at Fig. 11] was launched. I was very concerned that the piecemeal, erratic and sensationalized release of incomplete stories was proving prejudicial. Early in 2009 I circulated a strategy to Peter and his supporters proposing that the drawing should be ‘exposed to a wholly non-commercial venue at the same time as all the research data had been released in full.’ I emphasized that all the material in the planned book should be embargoed before its publication. This placed considerable demands on Peter’s uneven reserves of discretion and patience…”

With so much cross-linking of players mishaps can arise. Members of tightly-knit groups of advocates can come collectively to see all opposition not as differing viewpoints but as quasi-pathological manifestations of “hostility” from rival “gangs”. For example, Hewitt reports:

“On July 1 Peter Paul Biro alerted Kemp and Cotte that the next edition of the New Yorker would be running a ‘potentially prejudiced and cherry-picked article about me, my work and the drawing.’ The New Yorker, he pointed out, was ‘owned by Condé Nast, which in turn is owned by Si Newhouse – a major client of Christie’s.’ ‘Christie’s and their friends are getting as much as they can in the public domain rubbishing the portrait and those who have worked on it’ replied Kemp – who had assured the New Yorker that Biro’s work on the [“La Bella”] portrait was exemplary.’ David Grann’s 16,000 word article on July 12th implied Biro was sleazy and incompetent. When Biro [unsuccessfully] sued the New Yorker for libel, a Federal judge paid implicit tribute to Grann’s verbal craftiness – declaring that his article did not make express accusations against Biro, or suggest concrete conclusions about whether or not he is a fraud.” Kemp, too, discusses Biro in his memoir:

“The strategy I had outlined fell apart when the fingerprint became the explosive subject of international attention before our book was published. Paul Biro, working from his studio in Montreal, compared Pascal’s amplified image of the fingerprint with prints in Leonardo’s unfinished St Jerome in the Vatican. Paul identified a print in the St Jerome which he saw as showing eight points of resemblance with that on the vellum. The most characteristic part of a fingerprint is the complex whorl at the centre of each fleshy pad. This was not apparent [– was not present?] in the print on the portrait which was made by the very tip of a finger. Paul’s ‘eight characteristics’ would not have been enough to secure a criminal conviction, but they were suggestive [of what?] and supportive. I could more or less see what he was seeing, if I tried hard, and I was happy to accept that he possessed a more expert eye for such things. [And besides:] The fingerprint evidence was a small part of the total fabric of evidence I was building up. But a ‘Leonardo fingerprint’ is news; it has a ‘cops and robbers’ dimension. The story was broken in the Antiques Trade Gazette by Simon Hewitt, a journalist with whom Peter had developed a trusting relationship. On 12 October 2009 the Gazette announced:

“‘ATG correspondent SIMON HEWITT gains exclusive access to the evidence used to unveil what the world’s leading scholars say is the first major Leonardo da Vinci find for 100 years…ATG have had exclusive access to that scientific evidence and can reveal that it literally reveals the hand – and fingerprint –of the artist in the work. The fingerprint is ‘highly comparable’ with one in the Vatican’.”

Kemp went on to say: “David Grann threw a lot of unpleasant mud at Paul Biro.” He then threw some of his own: “The source of much of the mud was Theresa Franks, founder of the Fine Art Registry, who had developed a reputation as an effective and litigious polemicist about the vagaries of the art world…The New Yorker piece was hugely damaging for Paul – and for the portrait, because our limited use of his evidence was used to taint the whole of the case we were making.”

Kemp’s remarks on Hewitt’s journalistic prowess might have disappointed the journalist/author whose book begins:

“INTRODUCTION

Is this the greatest art discovery of the century?’

“That was the front-page headline [he reproduces the front-page] in Antiques Trade Gazette on 17 October 2009, placed above my story about the portrait…It was one of the biggest stories of my career and, in terms of internet hits, the biggest story ever covered by the respected, if slightly fusty, art market weekly I had served on as Paris correspondent since 1985…”

Another attribution, another “gang” of opponents… Hewitt adds: “What Kemp dubbed ‘the New York gang’ were ‘almost bound to be hostile in an act of closing ranks, since they all missed it.’” Yet another is the “Polish gang”. Under a heading “POLES APART” Hewitt writes:

“Soon after Leonardo’s portrait of Bianca Sforza had gone on show in Monza, Katarzyna Pisarek [books editor of the AWUK Journal] published a 17,000-word article in Artibus & Historiae – a twice yearly journal edited by her Polish compatriot Józef Grabski, whose advisory committee included the Metropolitan Museum’s Everett Fahy (cited by Richard Dorment as a ‘vehement opponent of the Leonardo attribution’)…Pisarek was aping her Communist-era compatriot Bogdan Horodski, a former director of the Polish National Library…Pisarek harped on about Peter Paul Biro’s ‘dubious’ fingerprint evidence, omitting to mention that this had been removed as inconclusive from the second edition of the Kemp Cotte book…”

Hewitt seemed not to grasp the full import of the fact that an entire chapter of the Kemp/Cotte book had been excised. He pursued his Polish Conspiracy slur: “ ‘Why was Pisarek ‘suddenly so concerned to address this portrait when she had no record as a Leonardo scholar?’ wondered Martin Kemp. He presumed it ‘resulted from a kind of Polish solidarity’…On November 29 Waldemar Januszczak [Sunday Times art critic and TV broadcaster] – born in England to Polish parents…” and so on. Kemp/Cotte had had very good professional reasons to disassociate themselves from Biro. Kemp puts it with some delicacy in his memoir but the urgency is clear: “It transpired that Paul had previously achieved some notoriety in the detection of a purported Jackson Pollock discovered by a truck driver in a thrift shop. This discovery had been chronicled in a 2006 TV documentary, Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? Grann went on to tell a complex tale of Biro’s engagements with other Pollock authentications, in which the artist’s fingerprints appeared on paintings that were subsequently rejected by important Pollock scholars. It was alleged that Biro forged the Pollock fingerprints.”

In the first edition of the Kemp/Cotte book, the authors described the partial fingerprint as a full fingerprint in their introduction: “Following Lumière Technology’s discovery of a fingerprint and a handprint on the portrait, the authors turned to Peter Paul Biro, Director of Forensic Studies, Art and Access & Research, Montreal, to analyse this evidence in the context of what was known of Leonardo’s work…” And Kemp wrote (in his concluding chapter headed: “What constitutes proof?”): “…We have been able to detect extensive left-handed execution, not least in the layers below those we can see with our naked eye. Finger- and hand-prints have come to light in the way we have come to recognize as characteristic of Leonardo’s working methods. Indeed the isolated fingerprint near the left margin has strong if not conclusive evidential value that Leonardo himself touched the vellum.”

Above, Fig. 10: The catalogue to the National Gallery’s 2011-12 exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan”. Normally such a scholarly publication would not become ensnared in attribution controversies because public galleries do not, on principle, include privately owned, unpublished and un-attributed works without provenances that are on the market, but it did so with the Salvator Mundi – even though the identity of the picture’s by-then three owners (one of whom had bought-in with a $10 million stake) was undisclosed. Also undisclosed was: the venue at which the picture had been bought; the price at which it had been purchased; the identities of the leading scholars who were supposed to have endorsed the Leonardo attribution. Crucially, the supporters included the National Gallery’s director, one of its trustees and the curator and organiser of the Leonardo exhibition. The catalogue entry described the work as an autograph Leonardo painted prototype for the many similar Leonardo school Salvators that exist. Its author, Luke Syson, wrote: “This discussion anticipates the more detailed publication of this picture by Robert Simon and others. I am grateful to Robert Simon for making available his research and that of Dianne Dwyer Modestini, Nica Gutman Rieppi and (for the picture’s provenance) Margaret Dalivalle, all to be presented in a forthcoming book.”

As mentioned above, that book has finally been published over eight years after the opening of the National Gallery exhibition and we now see that there are only three authors of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi & the Collecting of Leonardo in the Stuart Courts: Margaret Dalivalle, Martin Kemp and Robert Simon. Modestini and Gutman-Rieppi have been dropped. In Living with Leonardo, Martin Kemp discusses the failure of Peter Silverman to get “La Bella Principessa” included in the National Gallery exhibition – on the organisation of which he (Kemp) had, at one point, been under consideration as co-curator:

“Looking back over the different fortunes of the attribution of the Salvator Mundi and the portrait of Bianca Sforza, there are some clear lessons to be drawn. The first concerns how a work of art enters the scholarly and public domains. Robert quietly introduced the Salvator Mundi to a judicious selection of experts, who – remarkably, given the usual leakiness of the art world kept their counsel for three years. By the time the painting emerged in public, there was a critical mass of influential voices who would speak in the painting’s favour. By contrast a series of incontinent leaks to the press, as happened with the Bianca prejudices a work in the eyes of specialist commentators. I regret that I did not have more influence on when and how La Bella Principessa emerged…

“Ownership also plays its role. The owners of the Salvator played their hand cleverly, fostering the idea that they wanted to do right by Leonardo’s masterpiece and were interested in it entering a public collection. Peter Silverman, on the other hand, has become a conspicuous presence in the art world…he has what is conventionally called ‘a good eye’. I believe that his intuition about the portrait of Bianca Sforza will be vindicated in the longer term, but unfortunately his variable declarations about its ownership, even if well-intentioned, did not induce trust and made him vulnerable to media criticism.”

This was in pointed contrast to Kemp’s view of Robert Simon:

“…Robert Simon, the custodian of the picture (whom I later learnt learned was its co-owner), outlined something of its history and restoration. He seemed sincere, straightforward and judiciously restrained, as proved to be the case in all our subsequent contacts…All of the witnesses in the [National] gallery’s conservation studio were sworn to confidentiality, and the painting travelled back to New York with Robert. It was becoming ‘a Leonardo’.”

Above, Fig. 11: The 2010 edition of Leonardo da Vinci, “La Bella Principessa” The Profile Portrait of a Milanese Woman. Since 2014 we have reviewed this work in the following posts:

“Art’s Toxic Assets and a Crisis of Connoisseurship ~ Part II: Paper (sometimes photographic) Fakes and the Demise of the Educated Eye”

“Problems with ‘La Bella Principessa’ – Part I: The Look”

“Problems with ‘La Bella Principessa’ – Part II: Authentication Crisis”

“Problems with ‘La Bella Principessa’ – Part III: Dr. Pisarek responds to Prof. Kemp”

“Fake or Fortune: Hypotheses, Claims and Immutable Facts”

The day before the subsequently disappeared Salvator Mundi painting was sold at Christie’s, New York, we published a post explaining why the attribution was unsound and the provenance implausible:

“Problems with the New York Leonardo Salvator Mundi Part I: Provenance and Presentation”

Weeks before the sale and before criticisms of the Salvator Mundi erupted in New York, we had spoken against the attribution in a Guardian interview – “Mystery over Christ’s orb in $100m Leonardo da Vinci painting”

Michael Daley, Director, 15 November 2019


The non-appearing, disappeared, $450million, now officially not-Leonardo, Salvator Mundi

Where history is generally held to be the handiwork of victors, in the art world, losers are often quickest off the block to re-write official narratives. No sooner had the catastrophic restoration losses on the Sistine Chapel ceiling become apparent than Vatican Museum officials declared that art history would have to be re-written in light of their chemically-excavated discoveries. The art historical establishment that had underwritten the restoration’s untested technical radicalism obligingly rewrote Michelangelo (as a long-unsuspected brilliant colourist) in a score of learned articles. In Italy today that exercise might seem to have succeeded: every Italian school child now learns of the “Glorious Restoration”.

Rachel Spence, the Financial Times’ reviewer of the newly opened Louvre “not-a-blockbuster” blockbuster “Léonard de Vinci” exhibition, advised (26/27 October 2019): “Forget all the brouhaha around the ‘Salvator Mundi’ (it’s not here and shows no sign of arriving)…” How sweet that invitation not-to-address must have sounded to the Louvre authorities who had asked the day after the November 2017 sale at Christie’s, New York, to borrow the by then greatly-transformed work for their long-planned 2019 Leonardo anniversary extravaganza. That request was accompanied by one from the Royal Academy craving to include the work in their great Charles I Collection blockbuster exhibition. The 2017 sale’s outcome was taken by many of the Salvator Mundi’s advocates as an absolute validation of its post-2011 upgraded ascription.

Christie’s “unusually broad consensus” of scholarly support included Vincent Delieuvin, the co-author of the present Louvre “Léonard de Vinci” exhibition. In the 2016 catalogue to the exhibition “Leonardo in Francia – Léonard en France, 1516-2016” (Figs. 2 and 3 above), held at the Italian Embassy in Paris in September/November 2016, Delieuvin wrote, p. 286: “The composition [of Salai’s Christ in the Ambrosiana, Milan] is strikingly close to Salvator Mundi, whose autograph version seems retrieved now, unfortunately in very bad condition”. Thus, in their fig. 1 reference to the restored Cook version (shown at our Fig. 1, above right, in both its 2011-12 state at the National Gallery and its 2017 Christie’s sale state) the Louvre presented the picture as the supposedly “long-lost” autograph prototype painting for the many other Salvator Mundi versions – just as it had been claimed to be by the National Gallery, in the catalogue entry for its 2011-12 Leonardo blockbuster “Leonardo da Vinci – Painter at the Court of Milan”.

In the catalogue of the present Louvre Museum Leonardo exhibition, the (absent) Salvator Mundi is no longer attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Instead, it is simply listed as: “Fig. 103 bis, Salvator Mundi, the Cook version, c. 1505-1515”. It is reproduced in colour (p, 305) but with no catalogue entry. A chapter (pp. 302-313) by Delieuvin is devoted to a Salvator Mundi composition that has traditionally been attributed to Leonardo, though unsupported by any contemporary archival document. In other words, the New York/Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi has reverted to being one anonymous Leonardesque painting among many “with no decisive arguments which could have let a consensus emerge [regarding the attribution to Leonardo] from the concerned specialists”. Christie’s once-vaunted “unusually broad consensus” is now no consensus at all!

Some today hold that the “brouhaha” was triggered not by the substantial and various opposition to the picture’s upgrading but by the startling auction price it achieved in 2017 ($450million). At the time of the sale, many held that the attributed picture’s astronomical sale price had crushed the work’s critics and few more so than the sometime old masters art dealer and auctioneer, Bendor Grosvenor, who gushed support for Christie’s decision to pull the Salvator Mundi away from the old masters’ sale so as to thwart the depressing effect of informed art trade “nay-sayers”:

“It’s 1 a m here in the UK and I’ve just witnessed the most extraordinary moment of auction drama at Christie’s New York (via Facebook live). Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi has sold for £400m hammer, or $450m with fees.

“The lot was first announced as ‘selling’ at $80m, which I presume represents the level of the guarantee. Bidding was then brisk to the high $100ms, before, to audible gasps in the room, the picture broke through the $200m mark. Thereafter it was a battle between two phone bidders. The winning bidder kept making unilateral bids way above the usual bidding increments. Their final gambit was to announce, with the bidding at $370m, that their next bid was $400m. This finally knocked the competition out, and – after 19 minutes – the hammer came down. Whoever it was evidently has some serious cash to burn.

“And so an Old Master painting has become the most expensive artwork ever sold. It will have completely overshadowed everything else in the sale. The next lot, a Basquiat (usually a high point for contemporary sales) bought in as the room buzzed with Leonardo chatter. Will the sale prompt people to now look anew at Old Masters? Maybe. It will surely end for good now the tired cliché that the Old Master market is dead.

“Some immediate thoughts. First, the guarantor has made a few quid, and deserves it – guaranteeing that picture at this stage in its history (post rediscovery, and in the midst of an ugly legal battle between the vendor and his agent) was quite a risk. Second, the vendor – Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev – has made about $180m. He’s in the midst of a legal battle with the person he bought the picture from, an art agent called Yves Bouvier, alleging that he was over-charged (it has been reported that Bouvier bought it from Sotheby’s for about $80m, and sold it to Rybolovlev for about $125m – allegedly). I’m not sure how that over-charging allegation plays out now.

“Third, Christie’s just did something that re-writes the history of auctioneering. They took a big gamble with their brand, their strategy to sell the picture, and not to mention the reputations of their leadership team, and they pulled it off. They marketed the picture brilliantly – the best piece of art marketing I’ve ever seen. Above all, they had absolute faith in the picture. AHN [Grosvenor’s Art History News website] congratulates them all.

“Finally, despite the fact that this picture enjoyed near universal endorsement from Leonardo scholars, and had a weight of other technical and historical evidence behind it, there was a tendency in many quarters to be sniffy about it. I found this puzzling – not just because (for what it’s worth) I believed in the picture myself – since the determination amongst some to criticise the picture was in inverse proportion to their art historical expertise. It sometimes seems that the more famous the artist, the more people assume they are an expert in them. And with Leonardo being the most famous of them all, the armchair connoisseurs have been having a field day these last few weeks.

“Anyway, I’m going to bed. What a ride. I was sure the picture would sell, but never imagined it would make this much. We must all now wonder where the picture is going to end up next.”

Two years later, when we, the Louvre, and everyone else, were still wondering where the picture might be, Grosvenor, in or out of his arm chair, suffered a reverse when his earlier television-launched Great Raphael Discovery bit the dust after professional examination at the National Gallery – as we observed in the 19 August 2019 Daily Telegraph:

In 2018 Professor Martin Kemp, a key member of the Scholarly Consensus was cooler on Christie’s choice of sale in his memoir Living with Leonardo:

“It was, however, a great surprise to find that the Salvator was to be sold Christie’s in New York on 15 November 2017 in a mega-auction of celebrity works of art from the modern era. [Some saw that as being apt in view of the picture’s extensive repainting.] The auctioneers sent the painting on a glamorous marketing tour of Hong Kong, San Francisco and London. I was approached by the auctioneers to confirm my research and agreed to record a video interview to combat the misinformation appearing in the press – providing I was not drawn into the actual sale process.

“The price inched upwards from less than $100 million to $450 million, shattering the world record for a work of art. The result was cheered to the rafters. I was besieged by media requests for comment. Three weeks later reports that it had been purchased by one of two Saudi princes began to circulate, prompting Christie’s to announce that it had been acquired by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the remarkable new ‘world museum’, where it will join Leonardo’s La belle Ferronnière. A public home at last, I hope.”

The brouhaha should not be brushed aside. Too many urgent issues have arisen concerning, for example, the singular debate and scrutiny-avoiding means by which the supposedly solid consensus was assembled (- and, on this, see Ben Lewis’s The Last Leonardo), and the top-secret restoration work that was carried out at the Conservation Center of New York University’s prestigious Institute of Fine Arts, during which covert operation the drapery at the (true) left shoulder of Christ was transformed and simplified (Figs. 1 above and 7 below) immediately ahead of the pre-sale world marketing tour – as revealed in “Auctioneers Christie’s admit Leonardo da Vinci painting which became the world’s most expensive artwork when it sold for $340m has been retouched in the last five years”. While in truth we still don’t know the whole story or even the post-sale whereabouts of the picture, much of the recent ground is covered in the ArtWatch UK members’ Journal No 32, as sampled in Figs. 5-8 below. [AWUK Journals are distributed free to members. New members receive the previous two issues – presently as shown at Fig. 1 above. For membership application details please write to Membership at: artwatch.uk@gmail.com ]

Michael Daley, Director, 28 October 2019


Forthcoming events: The Ben Lewis Salvator Mundi Lecture and the new ArtWatch UK Journal

ArtWatch UK Notices: On October 1st, AWUK holds the tenth Annual James Beck Lecture (Speaker: Ben Lewis, author of The Last Leonardo) in London and publishes its thirty-second members’ Journal “From Sistina to Salvator”

For details of the Beck Memorial Lecture and for AWUK membership details, please contact artwatch.uk@gmail.com

New members will receive the new Journal 32 and Journal 31, The Proceedings of the 2015 LSE Law/ArtWatch UK/ Centre for Art Law conference “Art, Law and Crises of Connoisseurship”.

Michael Daley 20 September 2019


SALVATOR GRUMPI – UPDATED

The July/August issue of the Art Newspaper carries three fascinating items on the standing of the disappeared Salvator Mundi painting which may or may not be included in the forthcoming Leonardo exhibition at the Louvre.

It was sharp of the Art Newspaper to spot the inconsistency (above, left) at the Queen’s Gallery exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing”. Two months ago, the Guardian reported that Martin Clayton, head of prints and drawings at the Royal Collection Trust, had said that while some experts still doubt its authenticity: “For what it’s worth, I believe it is [a Leonardo].” He then made this extraordinary claim:

“My opinion is not a controversial one among Leonardo scholars … the more somebody knows about Leonardo the more likely they are to accept the painting and the people who have been saying ‘no, Leonardo would never paint anything like that’ tend to be people who, to be frank, aren’t great Leonardo scholars.”

This seemed both ill-informed and rash. Does Clayton take himself to be a better judge of Leonardo matters than say – just to name two prominent Salvator Mundi dissenters – Carmen Bambach, curator of Drawings and Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and author of the recently published four-volume study Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered, or, Frank Zöllner, author of the Leonardo catalogue raisonné? Contrary to claims made by the National Gallery and Christie’s, the author Ben Lewis has disclosed in his book The Last Leonardo that when the Salvator Mundi was examined at the National Gallery in 2008 – in one of its earlier restoration incarnations – only two out of five leading Leonardo scholars endorsed the then proposed Leonardo attribution.

Tonight Martin Clayton chairs a discussion at the Queen’s Gallery with the experts, Adam Rutherford, Maya Corry and Matthew Landrus, on the ways Leonardo understood observation and drawing while combining art and science in every aspect of his work. The event is a sell-out and, unfortunately, the Gallery declined to admit ArtWatch to cover the event for our forth-coming Journal on the theme “From Sistina to Salvator”.

Michael Daley, 4 July 2019

Update, 10 July 2019 – ATTRIBUTING UP AND ATTRIBUTING DOWN

Two ArtWatchers’ present at the (£15) Leonardo observation/drawing/science discussion, report that in the “Leonardo da Vinci – a Life in Drawing” exhibition catalogue, Martin Clayton takes the c. 1475 drawing, A Lily, from Leonardo and attributes it to the artist’s master, Andrea del Verrocchio, on the grounds that the drawing bears “close comparison to several of the few known drawings” attributed to Verrocchio (Fig. 1 below). The claim goes unsupported visually. Clayton has reportedly acknowledged that:

“The Royal Collection has one less Leonardo drawing, but we have one more Verrocchio, which is even more exciting. This is our only Verrocchio. We don’t have any other drawings by [him]” and “Whereas his sculpture and architecture is very well known, very few of his drawings survive. We have something like 1,000 artistic drawings by Leonardo, whereas we have about 10 – if that – by Verrocchio [worldwide]. So, in a sense the subtraction of one drawing from Leonardo’s oeuvre matters hardly at all, whereas the addition of one drawing of Verrocchio’s is a big deal. That’s why I find it exciting… It is one of the most beautiful of his few drawings.”

For those who care about works of art as art – and not as quasi-philatelic holdings – it matters a very great deal. Consider the logic: if we re-attribute a (fabulous) Leonardo plant study and place it among Verrocchio’s very few drawings it becomes…one of the latter’s most beautiful drawings. That is an alarm bell – it should look at home in the oeuvre. In answer to the question how comfortably or plausibly the Lily sits among Verrocchio’s few drawings, Clayton’s case is twofold. First, “Leonardo’s earliest drawings do not feature the bold, confident line seen here”; then, an acknowledgement/assertion that although there is “no direct parallel in the few known drawings by Verrocchio, this penwork is close to that in his Head of an Angel and the double-sided Study of Putti”. And, for that reason: “An attribution to Verrocchio of this accomplished drawing thus seems preferable.”

“Preferable” is an odd word in this context and is not the same thing as “more secure”. Moreover, if we juxtapose the details of the Leonardo Lily and the Verrocchio angel (as above at Fig. 2) we do not find a common bold line or a common anything. The drawing of the hair has none of the fluency of design or eloquent plasticity of the Lily. I first encountered the Lily at sixteen in a regional art school library Phaidon book, (probably Goldscheider’s Leonardo da Vinci). Then, I found it and Leonardo’s drapery studies breath-taking in their acuity and realisation of form-on-a-flat-surface. I still do. In Verrocchio’s oeuvre, the Lily is both atypical and most beautiful. This should not surprise: above grace and elegance, in this particular drawn stalk of flowers Leonardo had summoned a force of nature in an image that pulsates with life as it unfurls before us (Fig. 3).

Clayton’s principal justification for making his dramatic demotion is that the Lily constitutes a unicum within Leonardo’s surviving drawings oeuvre. It does but, then, it constitutes a more pronounced one in Verrochio’s tiny oeuvre. In making this switch Clayton discounts earlier scholarship on the drawing’s special status. Ann Pizzorusso kindly points out that while acknowledging the drawing’s distinctive nature, the late Carlo Pedretti had seen no disqualification. In Leonardo da Vinci Nature Studies from the Royal Library at Windsor Castle Pedretti noted that in nearly every one of his early paintings, Leonardo addressed landscape and “in particular” vegetation – where “Plants and flowers are consistently represented with scientific accuracy…” Moreover, “Evidence of Leonardo’s extensive study of plants and flowers in his youth is provided by Leonardo himself as he records ‘molto fiori ritratti di naturale’ in the list of works that in about 1482 he was taking to Milan or leaving in Florence…”

Whatever administrative benefits this effective de-attribution may bring, it neither rests on visual demonstration nor makes artistic sense. In our view, Clayton has thus committed a double Leonardo attribution error: he takes the now disappeared, much-restored and re-restored $450 million Salvator Mundi as a fully autograph Leonardo prototype painting and, he gives away one of Leonardo’s most brilliant studies. In both exercises methodological shortcomings are evident: neither the re-attribution nor the attribution upgrade followed a due presentation of evidence and invitation to debate. With the Salvator Mundi it is claimed that the (surviving) hair constitutes proof of Leonardo’s hand. It does nothing of the sort. Martin Kemp, the painting’s most vocal advocate, places the Salvator Mundi between the Mona Lisa and the St. John – in other words, at the very peak of Leonardo’s painterly accomplishment. In the comparison below (Fig. 4) we show details of the hair of the St. John, left, and the Salvator Mundi, right. By comparison with the secure St. John, the hair of the Salvator Mundi can be seen to be less sumptuously formed, more linear, sharper and metallic – like lathe turnings. The differences of painterly sophistication in these two works greatly outweigh any similarities of design.

Where the Lily seems to have been downgraded by a single scholar’s proclamation, with the Salvator Mundi, as Ben Lewis* has chronicled in his book, The Last Leonardo – The secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting, the attribution was made through a cumulative series of covert manoeuvres between 2005 and 2011, at which late date the painting was sprung on the world with the full authority of a National Gallery director, curator and trustee, as an entirely autograph Leonardo painted prototype in the Gallery’s major Leonardo Painter at the Court of Milan blockbuster exhibition. To Lewis, Luke Syson, the exhibition curator, admits erring in his catalogue entry on the painting (which was indebted to the then – and still – unpublished papers of one of the owners). Specifically, Syson confesses: “I catalogued it more firmly in the exhibition as a Leonardo because my feeling was that I was making a proposal and I could make it cautiously or with some degree of scholarly oomph”. Nothing indicated to the reader or the exhibition visitor that a proposal was being made. As Syson put it in his entry: “The re-emergence of this picture, cleaned and restored to reveal an autograph work by Leonardo, therefore comes as an extraordinary surprise.” No “ifs”, no “buts”, this was a long-lost Leonardo. On which claimed certainty, see our review of Lewis’s book in “Selling a Leonardo with ‘oomph’” in the July/August 2019 issue of the Jackdaw.

A CURATE’S EGG OF AN ATTRIBUTION

In March 2008 five Leonardo scholars were invited to examine the Salvator Mundi in its then state of restoration. Martin Kemp has reproduced the emailed invitation he received from the Gallery’s then director, Nicholas Penny:

“I would like to invite you to examine a damaged old painting of Christ as Salvator Mundi which is in private hands in New York. Now it has been cleaned, Luke Syson and I, together with our colleagues in both paintings and drawings at the Met, are convinced that it is Leonardo’s original version, although some of us consider that there may be [parts?] which are by the workshop. We hope to have the painting in the National Gallery sometime in March or in April so that it can be examined next to our version of the Virgin of the Rocks. The best-preserved passages in the Salvator Mundi panel are very similar to parts of the latter painting. Would you be free to come to London at any time in this period? We are only inviting two or three scholars.”

In the event, five scholars were invited, and, Ben Lewis has established, of those, two accepted the attribution, one rejected it and two declined to offer a judgement. Kemp did accept it and he has further disclosed that: “All of the witnesses in the conservation studio were sworn to confidentiality, and the painting travelled back to New York with Robert [Simon, one of the consortium of owners who had bought the painting for $1,175 in 2005]. It was becoming ‘a Leonardo’.” And so it was. Having done so and having twice been sold as such for a total of over half a billion dollars, it disappeared. Its whereabouts remain unknown.

*Ben Lewis will deliver the tenth ArtWatch International James Beck Memorial Lecture (“Fingers Crossed: Wishful Thinking, White Lies, Benedictions and the Attribution of the Salvator Mundi”) in London, on Tuesday October 1st. Details to be announced shortly.


Notre-Dame: A Tale of Two Pathologies

MICHAEL DALEY WRITES:

Already the victim of one cultural pathology, Notre-Dame Cathedral may be about to fall to a second. Two months after the April 15th inferno a preliminary report claims that an accident (- a cigarette or perhaps an electrical fault), not arson, was the likeliest cause. Whatever the cause, the ease with which the fire was able to spread was the product of neglect by the French State which for centuries has shown antipathy towards all things Gothic, “superstitious” and non-rational. At the beginning of the 19th century an obliging architect offered a scheme whereby a Gothic church might be razed by fire in an afternoon without risk to the revolutionary arsonists. In April, even before Notre-Dame had cooled or dried, a further State-initiated assault was launched with political, ideological and architectural ghouls crying as one: “we must rebuild anew”. Why anew? Why not first establish the nature and extent of the damage and then simply repair it? President Macron, France’s thwarted moderniser-in-chief, self-identifying Jupiter (Fig. 4) and would-be creator of a European Army, instantly announced an international competition to redesign Notre-Dame in a manner “adapted to the techniques and challenges of our time” so as to make a “contemporary art gesture” and leave the building “more beautiful” than before. Again, why this instantaneous rush to compound grave injury with extreme and perverse stylistic adulteration?

In sanctioning a modernistic retread of Paris’s near fire-destroyed cathedral Macron was effectively commissioning a Gallic equivalent of Berlin’s Norman Foster New Reichstag revamp which had left that historic parliament building shorn of its emphatic central vertical axis (Fig. 1 above) and turned into a skateboard-friendly tourist magnet with a larky dome that acts as a reverse lighthouse (Fig. 2 above).

Perhaps Macron, who created his own political party to gain office, sees a potential monument to himself in a made-over Notre-Dame – as the Guardian cartoonist, Steve Bell, swiftly and brilliantly suggested (Fig. 3, above). We had flagged Macron’s Jupiter-complex in the November 2017 The Conservative, as below at Fig. 4.

ARBITRARY DEADLINES AND A DANGEROUS LEGAL PRECEDENT

Macron insists all work will be finished for the 2024 Paris Olympics – much as the UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, (vainly) promised the negligent restoration burnt-out tea clipper, the Cutty Sark, would be “brought back to its former glory” for the 2012 Olympics. A law drafted for the cathedral’s reconstruction would provide exceptionally and controversially high tax exemptions (up to 75%) for pledged donations from French billionaires like François Pinault (€100 million) and Bernard Arnault (€200 million). It would also give to the competition winner blanket exemption from all French building and environmental regulations. This hasty and cavalier double blank cheque triggered national and international condemnation. After two months not a penny of the billionaires promised money has arrived and it is now said to be conditional upon their approval of measures to be taken.

DEMOLISHING HERITAGE SAFEGUARDS

Alexandre Gady, president of the Association for the Defence of Heritage Sites and Monuments, said: “We are against the very principle of an exceptional law… There is no justification for this law, which takes the restoration of Notre Dame out of the normal framework. The use of orders and derogations sets a dangerous precedent, when we already know how to move quickly within the framework of existing law.”
As shown below, the dismantling of heritage safeguards was an essential prerequisite of Modernism’s phenomenal late twentieth century boom in Britain.

THE POST-INFERNO STRUCTURAL REALITIES

On 28 April, over a thousand experts petitioned Macron not to bypass expertise on an ill-advised arbitrary deadline: “Let us not erase the complexity of thought that must surround this building work with a display of efficiency.” For the inferno’s devastating effects on stone and glass, see “Notre Dame: former Met director Philippe de Montebello among 1,000 experts urging Macron not to rush restoration” and “Notre Dame: experts explain why Macron’s five-year restoration deadline is impossible”.
It is now known that structural reinforcements are needed (above, Fig. 5) to prevent the burnt-out building’s collapse in gale-force winds when previously the cathedral could withstand storm winds of 220km per hour.

A POLITICAL AND POPULAR SETBACK

The French President may already be rattled: his culture minister, Franck Riester, vows transparency and claims the people “will be able to express themselves” upon which “we will decide after a great debate and great consultation.” The people, however, had already decided without permission – more than twice as many (54%) called for a straight replacement over a modernist make-over (21%). On 27 May a Senate requirement that the restoration must include a traditional spire was added to the bill.

The Senate has effectively placed an immoveable object in front of a hitherto irresistible modernising tendency that is now said to be spearheaded by the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye and the UK firm Foster + Partners. The artist is unfazed: “I am confident that they will change their mind 100 times, and possibly bend towards my solution.” The Architect’s Newspaper reports that Senate members insist the cathedral must be repaired precisely to its “last known visual state” and use original materials (“French Senate declares Notre Dame must be rebuilt as it was before, quashing competition”). It remains to be seen how or whether the two houses in the French Parliament will square the circle. We might expect some resourcefully enhanced assertions of Modernity-as-the-New Tradition. Already modernist big guns are wheeling – the Gagosian Gallery’s Paris branch is running “An Exhibition for Notre-Dame” (June 11 through July 27) with proceeds to go to the initiative Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris and its affiliated French entity La Fondation Notre Dame.

THE MODERNISERS’ BEDROCK IDEOLOGICAL STANCE

Two days after the fire, the Daily Telegraph invited the design critic Stephen Bayley and Simon Thurley, the former head of English Heritage, to address the question: “Should Notre-Dame be rebuilt in the mould of the original or reimagined for the modern age?” Bayley contended not to modernise would travesty the cathedral, lose an opportunity and constitute: “a terrible failure of nerve”. Thurley predicted: “there will inevitably be some who will call for a new contemporary roof and condemn the idea of replicating the old one. Perhaps an enterprising and creative architect will suggest a glass roof with a viewing platform for the millions of tourists who come each year to see the cathedral. Another might design a gleaming aluminium spire to replace the burnt wooden one erected in the nineteenth century.”

Whereupon, Norman Foster (aka Foster + Partners) proposed a new glass and steel-framed roof and a viewing platform and a new super-sleek, super-extended crystal glass and steel pyramid (above Fig. 6, top) in lieu of Viollet-le-Duc’s 1884 180-foot replacement spire for the unstable medieval spire removed in 1786 (see Fig. 8 below). Foster promises to use the “technology of the age” to “contemporary and very spiritual” ends when his proposed increase of daylight in the cathedral would diminish the force of the stained glass windows and assumes that light will bypass the cathedral’s stone-vaulted ceiling. (At the Reichstag, Foster funnelled light from his glass dome into the debating chamber below through a mirrored cone – Fig. 2, top). Other proposals (Fig. 6 above, and Fig.7 below) range from a swimming pool, a market garden, a gilded cast metal inferno, to legions of upward-thrusting night-time light effects.

THAT “TRADITION OF THE NEW”

In pressing his bid, Foster (Baron Foster of Thames Bank, OM, RA) patronised the French President: “The decision to hold a competition for the rebuilding of Notre Dame is to be applauded because it is an acknowledgment of that tradition of new interventions”. He had claimed all previous fire-destroyed cathedral roofs were rebuilt by modernisers using the most advanced technology of the age, when York Minster’s (part) fire-destroyed roof was rebuilt precisely as was. Reducing the weight of the roof might not be the smartest move: the roof’s weight had assisted the buttresses in stabilising the walls. Much as winds now threaten Notre-Dame for the first time, at the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi, an ill-considered concrete replacement of a wood roof had the unintended consequence of increasing the building’s stiffness by an estimated factor of 200 and, thereby, resulted in unprecedented earthquake damage in 1997.

THE ANTI-HISTORY CASE FOR MODERNIST BOLT-ON ADULTERATIONS

Whether the current vogue for appending modernist elements to historic buildings constitutes a tradition or an indulged adulterating fad, by ignoring questions of style, Foster presents architecture as a succession of pioneering technical problems solved – and, inariably, with small green bonuses (insofar as entirely glassed-over big steel boxes or blobs can be nudged towards energy efficiency). At Notre-Dame, Foster would convert the entire roof into a vast greenhouse and instal trademark structures to whizz tourists to and from his viewing platform. Such aesthetically and historically disruptive built radicalism is being proposed when there is no need to “re-imagine” the roof because abundant photo-records and construction drawings exist (Fig. 8 above) and, as mentioned, most people and the French Senate wish it to be replaced as was. The modernisers are contriving a cause célèbre without a cause.

The spire’s weathervane cockerel and a gilded head of an angel was found in the rubble and the late American academic, Andrew Tallon, (above, Fig. 9), who founded the Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris when the French Ministry of Culture stopped financing repairs to the cathedral, had created a digital virtual replica of the cathedral through more than a billion points of measurement. See CNN’s “Four years ago, an art historian used lasers to digitally map Notre Dame Cathedral. His work could help save it.

SHEDDING UNDAMAGED SCULPTURES AND FORGING A NEW VOCABULARY OF RESPECT

Macron’s iconoclastic bid to license a modernist makeover on an unstable historic building is as clear an abnegation of heritage responsibilities as could be imagined and where Foster promises “a respectful combination of the dominant old with the best of the new”, his own record with heritage buildings has repeatedly suggested otherwise – see below. The modernisers’ aspirations predicate the exclusion of the spire sculptures (Fig. 10, below) including that of the figure shown top right at Fig. 8 of St. Thomas, the patron saint of architects, which incorporated a likeness of Viollet-le-Duc (top, far right). Those sculptures were said to have “miraculously” escaped when removed from the roof in the days preceding the inferno. The French official overseeing their removal, Marie-Hélène Didier, described it as a “magical moment,” to see the statues close up for the first time since placed on the cathedral 135 years ago.

RESPECTING THE PAST, TELLING THE STORY OF A BUILDING

Pace Foster + Partners, what counts as respecting the past? Do we really better respect the past by updating it stylistically? Whatever differences archaeological purists might have with Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration philosophy, he held the restorer’s goal should be “to save in each part of the monument its own character, and yet to make it so that the united parts don’t conflict with each other…” Which is to say, he worked within the building’s own developed gothic style so as to maintain (and in his view, better realise) its coherence of language, this being a Gothic cathedral, not a Classical or Baroque – let alone Neo-Futurist – one. Of course, Viollet-le-Duc’s replacement spire and gingerly descending Apostles (above, Figs. 8 & 10) were not historically original but they were in the spirit in a way that no avowedly modernist production can be. They have long been part of the cathedral’s fabric and they have kept company with Quasimodo.

Cynthia Gamble, former Chairman of The Ruskin Society, and a writer on Proust and Ruskin cites the latter’s appreciation of a previously damaged Notre-Dame in a 19 January 1871 letter:

“As examples of Gothic, ranging from the twelfth to the fourteenth century, the cathedrals of Chartres, Rouen, Amiens, Rheims, and Bourges, form a kind of cinque-foil round Notre Dame of Paris, of which it is impossible to say which is the more precious petal; but any of those leaves would be worth a complete rose of any other country’s work except Italy’s. Nothing else in art, on the surface of the round earth, could represent any one of them, if destroyed, or be named as of any equivalent value.
Central among these, as in position, so in its school of sculpture; unequalled in that specialty but by the porch of the north transept of Rouen, and, in a somewhat later school, by the western porches of Bourges; absolutely unreplacable as a pure and lovely source of art instruction by any future energy or ingenuity, stands – perhaps, this morning, I ought rather to write, stood – Notre Dame of Paris.”

Ruskin, Gamble further notes: “did not remain in an ivory tower, but took practical action by establishing a fund-raising committee to assist the French. This great Victorian writer, campaigner and passionate advocate of Gothic, France and its cathedrals, was inspirational in Marcel Proust’s life and work. For Proust, who translated into French Ruskin’s The Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies, he was his guiding star and ‘maître à penser’”.

VICTOR HUGO

Two years before the conflagration Richard Buday, an architect and broadcaster, held it is hard to separate Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris from the cathedral itself:

“Novel and cathedral are so intertwined, so reinforcing of each other, they’ve become inseparable. It’s a magical relationship that architects would do well to study. Hugo wrapped a stealth of behavioural intervention inside a love story embedded in architecture. Like nested Russian dolls, Notre-Dame de Paris is a story within a story within a story. Outwardly, it’s save the girl. Inwardly, the hidden payload is save the building. Hugo wedded narrative to architecture and fermented intrinsically motivated behaviour change on a societal scale, turning local apathy into public action. Imagine what might have become of New York City’s Penn Station had Harper Lee or J.D. Salinger written a 1960 best-seller persuasively set in the great terminal.” See “How a Novel Saved Notre-Dame and Changed Perceptions of Gothic Architecture”. Re the reference to Penn Station, one of the most powerful laments on a barbarically destroyed building (one that today’s modernists might well dismiss as “pastiche”) was broadcast by Alistair Cooke, in his BBC Radio 4 “Letter from America” on 31 October, 2003. We carry the transcript below.

In the preservation of religious buildings even more than history and its stories are at issue. The Rev. Canon Michael Smith at York Minster (whom PBS broadcasters describe as “a traditionalist”) reminds us: “we have to acknowledge that places like here and places like Notre Dame are actually repositories of prayer. They hold the memory, they hold the joys and sorrows, the tears and the laughter, the questions, the doubts, the affirmations of faith of generations of people.”

One such now-embedded memory at Westminster Abbey is Earl Spencer’s throne-shaking funeral eulogy for his sister Princess Diana:

“…I would like to end by thanking God for the small mercies he has shown us at this dreadful time. For taking Diana at her most beautiful and radiant and when she had joy in her private life. Above all we give thanks for the life of a woman I am so proud to be able to call my sister, the unique, the complex, the extraordinary and irreplaceable Diana whose beauty, both internal and external, will never be extinguished from our minds.”

SAUCE FOR THE GOOSE

Where buildings capture, shape and nourish imaginations, Bayley holds that to rebuild “as was” is an affronting absurdity because “a great cathedral is a palimpsest established over time and it is quite impossible to establish exactly what ‘original’ means”. Replacing a recent discrete and well-recorded component part requires no philosophical/conceptual identification of an over-arching “originality” – there is nothing to be rethought or re-imagined because what is about to be replaced was there, just ten minutes ago and we know exactly how it was. Whereas, however, if such a philosophical obligation really did pertain, how might Foster clear that very hurdle so as to deliver his intended “respectful combination of the dominant old with the best of the new”?

PROLONGING LIFE IN OLD BUILDINGS

In the two buildings above at Fig. 11 we see, left, the gate portion of a shrine in Kyoto, Japan (as beautifully captured by the late William Corey). The building is 2,000 years old and has been maintained “as originally-was” throughout that period – which is to say, it has remained mint-fresh while becoming ancient. Is it now, therefore, a modern sham or pastiche? The building on the right, the Church of the Theophany (1693), Kuhayiv, Lviv Oblast in the Ukraine, is part of a tradition of wood-built churches that goes back to the 10th—11th centuries. It shows signs of age. Over 3,000 such churches survive in the Ukraine and eight were included in 2013 on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Many are said to be in need of conservation. The Ukraine Weekly Digest reports a workshop being held in consideration of possible treatments (June 24 to July 6 2019).

If either building above were to be part-destroyed by fire, would anyone insist that damaged portions be rethought and remade in a modernist manner with modern materials and techniques? As for Bayley’s “lost-opportunities”, an opportunity lost to a would-be insinuator of modernist motifs cannot be taken as the whole story. Was there a net loss when, in 1994-2004, Dresden rebuilt “as was” the magnificent 18th century Frauenkirche and surrounding square (Fig. 12 below) which had been destroyed in the Second World War?

How many modernists visiting Florence protest: “fake”; “lazy replica”; “pastiche” or “lost opportunity”? Who contends that the city’s war damaged buildings and bridges would better have been replaced by early post-war (and now passé) modernists than by being remade from surviving drawn records, as Bernard Berenson successfully urged?

THE ART OF BUILDING BRIDGES

Florence’s Ponte Santa Trìnita bridge of 1567-1569 (above, Fig. 13), the oldest elliptical arched bridge in the world, was blown up in 1944 by retreating German troops. British troops built a temporary bridge and the original bridge was reconstructed in 1958 with surviving stones from the river Arno and new stone from the original quarry. (When Foster revamped the British Museum he used the wrong stone – French, not English.) In 1993, the old stone bridge at Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina was destroyed by Croat shelling having stood for 427 years (Fig. 14 below). Under UNESCO it was rebuilt, as was, using recovered stones and freshly quarried local stone, by 2004. The exercise discovered that under Islam knowledge of sophisticated geometrical methods of calculating, cutting and joining stones had survived that had been used on the Parthenon in Athens. Would Bayley have preferred the insertion of a technically ground-breaking shiny metal bridge into the ancient stone buildings that served as bulwarks to the stone bridge once considered a technological miracle of its day?

FOSTER + PARTNERS’ WOBBLY METAL BRIDGE AND THE WRONG KIND OF PEDESTRIANS

On 10 June 2000, The Millennium Bridge, above, right, Fig. 14, an £18.2m metal footbridge over the River Thames opened, two months late and £2.2M over budget. It closed two days later. It had been officially opened by the Queen in May, when behind schedule and only two thirds complete. It had been co-designed by Lord Foster, the sculptor Sir Anthony Caro, OM, and the engineers Ove Arup. It was closed because it wobbled when used by people. The co-designers fell into disarray. Foster reportedly caused great resentment when appearing to shrug off responsibility by describing the problem as “engineering led”. Caro blamed planners who had “cut down and trampled on the innovative designs” The project’s chief engineer blamed “unintentional synchronisation of walking [by people walking over the… footbridge]”.

“THE REAL WORLD” BITES BACK

The problems arose in attempt to create a novel bridge as a “blade of light”. Royal Fine Art Commission experts predicted problems with vibration and further fears were expressed when the new Pont de Solferino in Paris was closed because of vibrations. Tony Fitzpatrick, the engineer at Arup responsible for the bridge later admitted: “The real world produced a greater response than we had predicted. No one has effectively studied the effect of people on a horizontally moving surface.”

FOSTER’S “NOSTALGIA” SMEAR

Suspension bridges’ vulnerability to waves of vibration has long been known. The Albert Bridge in central London carries a sign stating that soldiers must break step when crossing the bridge – I recall being told in a school maths lesson that soldiers could not march in step on bridges. Fitzpatrick’s phrase “horizontally moving” is the key: the problem with the Millennium Bridge arose because it was not so much suspended (with its weight and downwards pull opposing lateral movement) as held near-horizontally on wide “Y” shaped supports in order to permit uninterrupted views. The “blade of light” more resembles a trampoline than a conventional suspension bridge. It was a technical invitation to wobble. Fixing its bounce and sway with “dampers” resulted in closure until January 2002 and a further £5million costs. Foster subsequently presented the debacle as midwife to a great technical advance and he averred: “Can you ever be over-ambitious? I would rather be accused of being over-ambitious than of being lily-livered and retreating into a nostalgic past that never existed.”

THE GODZILLA TENDENCY WITH ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE

New buildings are inserted into historical contexts, that is, into “presents-with-pasts”. Foster’s latest addition to the City of London, a 1000-ft (305-metre) viewing tower (above, second left and centre, Fig. 15), has been politely dubbed the Tulip and derided as an architectural Freudian slip. It gained planning approval despite intense opposition, public mockery and Foster’s failure to attend the planning committee. It has been objected that it would fit better into Dubai than London; that there was no need for “this phallic-shaped attraction, with little aesthetic merit”; and, that the proposal “reeks of desperation in its straining after ostentatious effect”. It serves no purpose other than to harvest tourist revenues. With this building, Foster does to his own notorious “Gherkin” at 30 St Mary Axe (above, left) precisely what it had done to its neighbours – dwarfing and out-shouting them (above, second left).

In the above, top centre, computer representation the viewing tower stands directly in front of the Gherkin for which building the Baltic Exchange – a Grade II* listed building (its interior as above, right) the IRA attempted to destroy in 1992 – was demolished. Approval was given at a secret English Heritage planning meeting at which officers objected that the Gherkin would be “unduly dominant and assertive…damaging to [a long list of items including the] general skyline of the City of London…The setting of the Tower of London…part of a World Heritage site…” See “Clamps Off”, Mira Bar-Hillel, ArtWatch UK Journal 12, Winter 2001-2.

FALLING GLASS AND REMOVED PLANNING CLAMPS

On 26 April 2005 the Guardian reported that a large window had fallen out of an unoccupied floor of the Gherkin and smashed into the landscaped plaza that surrounds the building. It is possible that it had been pushed out by one of the ghosts of the Baltic Exchange after its listed 1922 memorial to members killed in the First World War was dismantled to make way for the Gherkin. Responsibility for English Heritage’s failure to protect that fine listed building and its contents was self-attributed to its departing Chairman, Sir Jocelyn Stevens (1992-2000) who had recently written that in the 1980s “I asked Richard Rogers and Norman Foster why they were not working in England. They replied that it was largely because of the planning procedures of English Heritage. Now Lords Foster and Rogers have approximately twenty schemes in London. English Heritage deserves some of the credit for this; it has helped that we have taken the clamps off.”

THE HEARST HEADQUARTERS TOWER, NEW YORK

With regard to a possible outcome of a Foster intervention on Notre-Dame, over a number of years on New York visits I regularly passed (on Eighth Avenue, between Fifty-sixth and Fifty-seventh Streets) a stone building with richly dramatic sculptural decorations that provided unfailing delight. Then hoardings sprang (above, Fig. 16) announcing: “The Hearst Corporation’s new headquarters will be a modern tower which expresses its own time with distinction, yet respects the original landmark building”. Foster + Partners were to be the instrument of this respectful development and I would have an intermittent ringside seat.

The building’s façades afford an animating interplay of horizontals, verticals, projections and recessions. The elevations link smoothly at the building’s base in broad two-storey corner chamfers above which tall triangular voids give space and home to dramatic fluted columns bearing archaistic Greek allegorical figures at their bases and geometrically decorated urns that break the skyline like minarets or pinnacles (above, Fig. 17). The central main entrance (as below, left, at Fig. 18) is a simple arch set flush with the smooth flat base apart from a progressive fanning projection of keystones supporting a balcony balustrade. Above, and stepped behind the balustrade, twin columns frame a central block of windows comprising a feast of advancing and receding shadow-casting surfaces. Notwithstanding the minimalist (Art Deco) vocabulary the whole recalled the sophisticated plastic/conceptual game-playing at the vestibule of Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence, as below, right.

The 1927-8 building comprised the base of a planned skyscraper for William Randolph Hearst that was scuttled by the Great Depression. We now know – thanks to a fine and richly illustrated 2009 monograph by John Loring (design director for Tiffany & Co. from 1979-2010) that the architect was Joseph Urban, a brilliant and prolific designer of buildings, stores, ballrooms, theatre, film and opera sets who had studied architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna under Karl von Hasenauer. Urban moved to America in 1911 as an accomplished international architect, illustrator, theatre and cinema set designer (with over 50 productions from his home Vienna Royal Opera, the Champs Elysée Opera, and Covent Garden) and then to New York in 1914, becoming a stage designer for the Metropolitan Opera in 1917. He died at fifty-one in 1933 but his sets remained in the repertoire into the 1950s. In architecture he was an originator of the Art Deco style and, in his 1930 “New School” building at 66 West Twelfth Street (- a stone’s throw away from the great Strand Bookstore) at Fig. 33 below, he introduced the first international Modernist building in New York. The Hearst and the New School are Urban’s only surviving New York buildings.

What a richly stimulating challenge and responsibility had been granted to an architect who today would combine the “dominant” old with the best of the new at Notre-Dame Cathedral.

During subsequent trips I watched with dismay and disbelief as the sprouting New dominated the fixed Old to a shocking degree (above, Fig. 19). Lord Foster’s contribution burst from within the brutally hollowed Urban building and it progressively assumed (depending on viewpoint) the character of either an incubus or a jack-in-the-box, as below at Fig. 20. (Fuseli’s Nightmare, is shown as before a recent debilitating restoration.)

JOSEPH URBAN’S NEW YORK LEGACY

It is possible that had Loring’s book preceded the development of the Hearst Tower there might have been a more appropriately respectful and fitting treatment for the major surviving building of a prodigiously gifted culturally-enriching New York immigrant who was described by Fritz Kreisler as “the last Viennese”. Urban excelled equally in the plastic, graphic and pictorial arts. In Fig. 21 below, top, we see his 1926-27 Ziegfeld Theater in a wash presentation drawing, left, and in the flesh, right, at the northwest corner of Sixth Avenue and Fifty-fourth Street. Thus, in both anticipation and realisation, Urban delights in counterpointing a dead flat façade with richly sculptural decorations that collectively ripple in synchronised waves.

In Fig. 21 below, bottom left, we see the astonishingly audacious – and still surviving – auditorium of Urban’s New School of 1930 – in competition for which building he beat Frank Lloyd Wright (whom he had helped financially). Below, bottom right, we see Urban’s 1922 Wiener Werkstätte of America showroom. Visiting Vienna in 1919 Urban found many famous artist friends who were almost starving. He bought their works and displayed them in this exquisite setting – has any Klimt painting ever been displayed to greater and more sympathetic effect? Is it fanciful to see, in Fig. 22 below, echoes of Urban’s 1930 auditorium, respectively, in Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1959 Guggenheim Museum (top) and Norman Foster’s 1999 Berlin Reichstag dome?

FOSTER’S WAY WITH HISTORY

At the Hearst building, Urban’s façades survived only as a shell to a Giant’s Entrance Lobby. Immediately above Urban’s building, his inventively articulated decorations were swamped by the gargantuan leaps of scale on the tower’s glassed-over big steel box (above Fig. 20). Small was dwarfed; warmth was frosted out; variety, interplay and dramatic sculptural groupings were all eclipsed by gigantic shiny repetitively monotonous units (Fig. 35 below). Against old stone relief surfaces that absorbed light and cast ever-changing shadows, the grossly assertive inner New-Build Tower’s darkened glass and stainless steel trim facades bounce light straight back at the viewer. Before considering some of the less disrespectful forms a modern tower might have taken, we consider the Hearst Headquarter’s somewhat anomalous position within Foster’s oeuvre.

FOSTER’S OEUVRE AND BORROWED NOTIONS

Foster’s buildings moved from a “bare-all” structure-determined crystalline geometry (first, second, third, fourth and seventh, above Fig. 23) to a curvilinear organic vocabulary (fifth, sixth and eighth above) that famously runs through the testicular towards the phallic. With the Hearst Tower (seventh in Fig. 23 above) the arc is disrupted by a regression to flat-faced geometries in what is one of Foster’s most manifestly indebted motifs. Even though the building was widely acclaimed as a novel and invigorating treatment of tower buildings in New York, its indebtednesses drew notice. In the 11 December 2005 New Yorker, Paul Goldberger (“Triangulation: Norman Foster’s thrilling addition to midtown Manhattan”) noted:

“In some ways, the Hearst tower calls to mind a famous unbuilt design from a heyday of modernism: a six-hundred-foot skyscraper in Philadelphia, proposed by Louis Kahn and Anne Tyng in 1957, which would have had a zigzag shape based on a framework of triangular supports. [Fig. 24 centre, below.] Kahn and Tyng weren’t the only designers to have understood that the triangle is an inherently strong and efficient structural form; Buckminster Fuller and the engineer Robert Le Ricolais made the same claim. Foster’s use of triangles is, in this sense, a borrowed notion.”

In the 7 October 2004 New York Times (“Hearst Tower Echoes Trade Center Plan”) David W. Dunlap suggested that the design had originated in Foster’s 2002 study for the new World Trade Center: “With its bold introduction of a quiltwork diagonal grid, or diagrid, into the relentlessly right-angled cityscape, the future headquarters of the Hearst Corporation gives some sense of what New York might have experienced in Lord Foster’s proposal for the trade center site.” Dunlap was disconcerted by the Tower’s most distinctive and novel innovation – its treatment of the vertical corners: “More disorienting than any other feature of the Hearst Tower are its crimped corners. They will slope inward at 75 degrees for four stories, then outward at 105 degrees for four stories, then inward, then outward, inward, outward, inward, outward, inward.”

The consequence of those gigantic repeating angled incursions (which were likened by Foster to birds’ mouths) is that when the tower is viewed from three-quarters (so that the flat front face and one of the flat side faces are seen together) it bears strong resemblance to Brancusi’s Endless Column sculptures. There had been earlier discussion of a Brancusian indebtedness with Foster’s originally proposed 2002 Twin Tower replacement. A collector, Alec Biele, was struck by the Foster designs’ similarity with piece of sculpture he owned – an Ode to Brancusi by John Bartolomeo, a retired architect turned full-time artist. As Dalya Alberge reported in the 12 February 2003 Times (“The other twin towers spark talk of plagiarism” – Fig. 25 below), a letter of complaint by Biele to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation went unanswered but Foster’s twin towers proposal (which had been considered the favourite) was eliminated.

Watching the Hearst Tower development it soon became apparent that the promised integration of the old and the new was an exercise more of defiance than compliance. Moreover, the pronounced “disconnect” between the Urban base and the Foster tower is strikingly similar to that encountered in the monumental version of Brancusi’s Column without End at Târgu-Jiu in Romania (Fig. 26 above and Fig. 27 below left). In the giant sculpture the trapezoidal modules (plastically-speaking, each consisting of two conjoined and mirroring truncated square pyramids) were made individually in cast-iron and successively threaded onto a vertical steel central core which was integrated with a steel pyramid set below ground in a fifteen feet cubic concrete block. In the sculpture, when the bottom of the first module reaches its widest section, instead of narrowing it drops down vertically and seemingly sinks into the ground. That very treatment of termination is replicated in Foster’s tower – with the difference that his disappears from view on the outside but drops right through the roof of Urban’s now-gutted building and reappears within. Below the original base building’s roof level, the descending vertical columns receive diagonal buttressing (as in the cut-away drawing above and Fig. 36 below).

In the model of the Hearst Headquarters shown above right at Fig. 27, we can see most clearly the utterly dwarfing impact of the tower on Urban’s base: his building becomes Jack to the tower’s Beanstalk. This is not a marriage of old and new but the explosive emergence of a tower in transparent disregard of an immovable landmarked stylistic encumbrance at its feet.

MIGRATING MOTIFS – A CREATION, A HOMAGE, A BORROWING/COINCIDENCE, AND A RECAPITULATION

In Fig. 28 above, we see successively and chronologically: one of Constantin Brancusi’s endless column carvings; Bartolomeo’s steel sculpture, Ode to Brancusi, that had been published on its maker’s website; Foster’s submission to the competition to rebuild New York’s Twin Towers; a model showing the development of the Hearst Tower from within the surviving Landmarked Urban base for the Hearst building.

MODERNISM IN DENIAL

That Urban’s building had been planned as a base might have been taken as a helpful cue in designing the new tower. The word “base” nods towards the classical sub-divisions within a column: base; shaft; capital. As seen below (Fig. 29) even in almost nominal allusion such adopted and adapted schema variously lent charm and coherence to a thousand tall buildings in New York:

There is no more satisfying a high-rise structure in New York than the 1902 Flatiron Building, above right. The Flatiron’s construction began with a base from which a shaft sprang and, then, harmony and lucidity were achieved by completion of its “capital”. Given that Foster had been gifted a base – what force impelled him not to build on that implicit logic and in sympathy with New York’s own rich architectural precedents? If Foster can nod backwards to sculptural motifs, why not do so with comparably helpful/stimulating architectural paradigms? As it happens, there exists in New York a building of much more recent origin (1984) than the Flatiron that might almost have been taken as a template on which to achieve a happy and fruitful synthesis between the creations of Urban’s late 1920s and Foster’ early 2000s – see below.

ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS TO THE HEARST TOWER PROBLEM

Arguably, the most pertinent and attractive post-war New York skyscraper was the revolutionary Philip Johnson and John Burgee 1984 AT&T Building – now the Sony Tower (Fig. 30 above). David Langdon in ArchDaily has fairly said of the building’s crowning open pediment: “It may be the single most important architectural detail of the last fifty years…[It] singlehandedly turned the architectural world on its head. This playful deployment of historical quotation explicitly contradicted modernist imperatives and heralded the mainstream arrival of an approach to design defined instead by a search for architectural meaning. The AT&T Building wasn’t the first of its type, but it was certainly the most high-profile, proudly announcing that architecture was experiencing the maturation of a new evolutionary phase: Postmodernism had officially arrived to the world scene.”

Unfortunately, while Postmodernism certainly identified modernism’s Achilles Heel (its self-impoverishing conviction that style is a by-product of correct applications of permanently advancing technical procedures), in practice it has served widely to license whimsy, incoherence, exhibitionism. The profound radicalism of the AT&T Building was its re-affirmation of the universal and perpetually invigorating force of classical architectural notions. This can be seen in the many affinities between the Johnson building and Urban’s Hearst building, even though the one was returning to classicism as the other was departing from it. As if oblivious, Foster, while happy to feast on an earlier sculptural modernism, missed the connection between Urban and Johnson and an opportunity to effect a bridge and synthesis across seven decades of architectural development.

AN EASY VISUAL ALIGNMENT

As can be seen above, at Fig. 31, it would be no insuperable task to marry the vocabularies of Urban and Johnson, so as to produce a harmonious/dynamic play of vertical and horizontal forces but Foster would seem blind, indifferent or hostile to any such stylistic resolutions. While properly enforced heritage laws meant Urban’s landmarked building had to remain in place, Foster retained only its shell to serve as an anomalous period raincoat to a pretentious over-sized futurist private “civic” square within. From within the Urban shell, Foster struck his own variation on a Brancusian theme, as below, second left at Fig. 32.

AN ARCHITECTURAL COMMUNION AND AN OPPORTUNITY MISSED

Urban and Johnson shook hands firmly in their doorways (above, top, Fig. 33). Urban’s progressively leaner, sparer – but always elegant – minimal modernism distilled his command of the riches of classical architecture as seen below at Fig. 35 in his designs for department stores, stage sets and, right, his 1919 plan for a World War I memorial that was never built.

SCALE ABUSES AND THE TYRANNY OF THE TRIANGE

In the detail above at Fig. 35 we see how there was no attempted mediation between the old and the new. To the contrary we see how (aside from dropping down a vertical face in echo of Brancusi’s Column without End at Târgu-Jiu) there was no attempted integration. Instead, there are massively abrupt shifts of scale, of vocabulary and of materials. Perhaps even more contemptuous than the inflicted giantism, is the imposition of an alien triangulated vocabulary on Urban’s interplay of horizontals and verticals. Two things might be noted: first, the visual deployment of the diagonals is essentially a wilful aesthetic contrivance not a product of some structural necessity. Although the massive diagonal structural elements sported on the glass facades permitted a lighter steel construction within, watching the erection of the building (Figs. 19 & 20) it was clear that this skscraper was, its nibbled corners aside, yet one more big steel box of office space to be clad entirely in energy wasteful glass. The diagonal structural elements did not in themselves dictate the contrived illusion of a giant concertina-ing of forms. Second, in mitigation, Foster was not so much imposing a private language as positioning himself in the van of an international vogue for the triangular and the pyramidal – a pronounced cultural infatuation that might be taken to betray a pathological desire to subvert and repudiate architecture’s classical architectural norms of stability and coherence through disorientation and derangement. This impulse is a pan-continental cultural manifestation – or zeitgeist – not a personal proclivity (see below).

AN INTERIOR GUTTED

Who, looking at Urban’s outwardly still-standing building today could have inkling of what lies within? As seen above (Fig. 36), the whole has been gutted to create an antiseptic Foster quasi-public space. Triangulation is supreme. On the lower, entrance level, the escalators run diagonally so as to bisect the rising metal slope (that doubles as a waterfall) into triangular sub-divisions in concert with the shiny triangular buttresses of the tower that rises within. If not unique to Foster, from where might this triangulating impulse have originated? (A clue: it was not from a love of ancient Egyptian pyramids.)

MODERISM’S BRUTAL ANTECEDENTS

In our 2008 Journal No. 24 (on the fight to save the classical architecture of St Petersburg) we drew attention to certain stylistic similarities between the reinforced concrete U-Boat pens and gun emplacements of the German sea-board defences in the Second World War and the architecture of Denys Lasdun, as left and right above at Fig. 37 (“Modernism’s Secret Passion?” – Michael Daley.) How might such similarities of formal language have arisen? In the late 1960s Lasdun spoke of his source influences in a lecture at the Royal Academy Schools. They were wide-ranging: from African mud hut villages, through Palladio and Hawksmoor, but there had been no mention of German concrete defence installations. Lasdun’s attachment to concrete as a building material is generally said to have arisen in the 1930s at a time when international modernism was seen as a “counter-thesis to fascism” (which rising political movement was notoriously prone to appropriate classical vocabularies) but in 2003 Lasdun’s son, James, mentioned in a frank and illuminating memoir (The Master Builder) that his father had “crossed over on D-Day, built airstrips with the royal engineers and captured a German horse that was wondering around a gun emplacement filled with dead German officers.”

A 1994 monograph on Lasdun effectively drew a veil over his war-time experiences: “Lasdun’s formation… [was]…interrupted by the war…Lasdun remembers the technical headaches which they all encountered, but also his private fascination with using bulldozers to sculpt the landscape into platforms and mounds…all [his later] use of decks and bridges might seem to suggest some nautical preoccupation…but he is really more interested in things like ancient mounds, overgrown ruins or the breaks and cracks of rocks.” Really? Had such generated the structure’s of Lasdun’s National Theatre? Given his infatuation with Le Corbusier’s concrete (- and: “You know James, there’s something aphrodisiacal about the smell of wet concrete”), is it conceivable that first-hand encounters with German concrete defences left no impression; no memories; or, that throughout the six-year long war, the shapes, forms, edges and aspects of no warships or embattlements caught the architect’s eye or aroused his plastic/sculptural creative passions?

THE UBIQUITOUS TYRANNY OF TRIANGULATION PLUS GLASS

Whatever the antecedents, we have seen more recently that with computer-aided design, triangulation has provided a means of building almost anything to any design, as with the part-entombed Cutty Sark by Grimshaw Architects and the errupting Hearst Tower by Foster + Partners at Fig. 38 above. But suspicion persists of an underlying darker side to triangulation’s imperative appeal for so many architects. Consider the work of the esteemed late architect I. M. Pei.

It was said in a recent obituary of Pei in the New Yorker (“The Impeccably Understated Modernism of I. M. Pei”) that he was: “… a consummate professional, one of the people who made modernism feel conservative and traditional. The East Building of the National Gallery, in Washington, D.C., married a sharp, trapezoidal construction with a monumental marble veneer. Here was a modern project that accommodated itself to the neoclassical ethos of the self-embalming American capital.” That is one way of looking at it. As in New York, we saw no accommodating marriage. We saw, in the forms, if not in the veneer, an assault on classicism inside and out through a disorientating arbitrary grouping of intersecting wedges that constitute one of the most uncongenial, art-contemplation unhelpful galleries to be found, the contrived manner and means of which is evident in the photographs and designs above left, Fig. 39. In the Marc Riboud/Magnum photograph of I. M. Pei ascending a stair in the East Building of the Washington National Gallery, above, right, the architect is perfectly pinpointed as the tip of one of his own contrived arrow head motifs.

In Pei’s most famous pyramids, at the Louvre, as above, top, Fig. 40, the great formalism of the courtyard is echoed by the axis of the large central and two small symmetrically flanking pyramids. Nonetheless, the large pyramid sits smack in front of the face of the host building’s façade. No such respect is shown at the National Gallery, Washington, (above, centre), where Pei’s Pyramids are intrusively alien and arbitrarily grouped – almost as if a stealth bomber had crashed and part buried itself into the ground. Whether architects like Pei, Grimshaw and Foster appreciate or intend it, or not, their combined triangulations constitute a disruptive assault on, or deviation from, the built world’s near universal deployment of horizontal and vertical forms, sometimes mediated by circular, elliptical or pointed arches. Littering that universe’s rational and coherent public and civic spaces with appliqued artefacts as visually disruptive as tank traps (Fig. 41 below, bottom left) or crashed stealth bombers – as by Foster’s former associate, Ken Shuttleworth, third down, above – may guarantee attention and public notice but stealth-bomber chic should not be permitted to present itself as some classicism-of-our-times. Nor should it even be taken as a modernist expression of a building’s “frankly laid-bare” structural integrity. These contrived devices are best seen as a species of window dressing that confers easy spurious dynamism on maximised rentable spaces. Just how appliqued today’s façades can be is seen bottom right, above, where Foster’s “diagrid” structural logic does not constitute a structurally realised building top but, rather, a deceiving screen that conceals the roof’s bric-a-brac.

UNANTICIPATED EXTRA-TRIANGULATION

When Foster presented the designs for the Hearst Tower, the first question asked was “how will the windows on the corners be cleaned?” It was a good question. In 2002 Foster subcontracted the world’s largest builder of window-cleaning platforms, Tractel Swingstage, to provide the answer. The technical ingenuity of the solution is staggering (it took three years and cost $3 million) but technical ingenuity, in itself, is never the whole story. In this case it required a very long, centrally hinged, cleaning platform (to contain window cleaners) that could fold around corners – the story was well told and illustrated in The New Yorker (“Life at the top”, 27 January 2013). But just months later, in June 2013, two maintenance workers were left stranded for nearly two hours 500 feet above ground when the folding platform snapped in the hinged centre (see Fig.42 below).
They were rescued when fire-fighters took out a window. The New York Times reported that in 2008, Tractel was issued a notice of violation by the New York State Labor Department for failing properly to maintain a scaffold at the Solow Tower at 265 East 66th Street. The violation related to an accident in December 2007, in which two window cleaners fell 47 stories when cables on their mechanical platform, serviced by Tractel, failed. One worker was killed, and the other was gravely injured.

By virtue of New York’s heritage landmarking programme the above, nominally “Art Deco” – but, in truth, vigorous archaistic classical figures – at Fig. 43 survived on Joseph Urban’s building. They are thus able to maintain their conversations with earlier backward-looking and “constrained” archaistic sculptures made within Greek and Roman classicisms at the height of their developed sophistication. It is presently within our power to return Viollet-le-Duc’s “backward-looking” Apostles to their roof/spire setting at Notre-Dame and not confine them in some store room. The question is: will we be allowed to do so? Or will the negligent State that half-destroyed the cathedral now also instigate a programme of modernist stylistic subversion?

Michael Daley, 30 June 2019

CODA: Towering Glass and Steel – Alistair Cooke, BBC Radio 4 “Letter from America” 31 October, 2003:

Forty years ago last Monday morning, a gentle south-east wind carried up through Manhattan what many New Yorkers at first thought was a series of explosions of some kind.

Pretty soon there came on television what to most New Yorkers was an incomprehensible sight and sound.
The pictures showed jackhammers clawing away at the walls of a famous building and then at slow, rhythmic intervals a huge, airborne shining ball swung and crashed against the long stately Doric colonnade of – were they mad? – the Baths of Caracalla.
Well, yes – not of course the original but a superb recreation of a Roman architectural masterpiece.
Why were they doing this? And who were they?
What we saw was America’s most famous railway station – the Pennsylvania Station [Fig. 44, below.]
It had been designed at the turn of the 19th-20th Centuries, during the finest hour of the new multimillionaires – especially the robber barons who had made their fortunes in coke, iron ore, railroads – a time when little old Andrew Carnegie was proclaiming the new age of steel.

Once such a man was a millionaire he became eager to advertise the grandeur of his social position by ordering up a new house, a mansion, as like as possible to the mansions not of the new rich of Europe but to the ancient houses of the old aristocracy, especially the nobles of France and Italy.
At that time Goethe had given an encouraging line to the poor or oppressed of Europe who emigrated to America: “Du hast es besser” – You have things better in America.
An American journalist, watching the robber barons fight each other to procure the old master paintings and the models of the old aristocrats’ houses, wrote: “Their motto was – they DO things better in Europe”.
Such was the temper of the time when the most fashionable architectural firm of the day had an idea beyond the dreams of the culture vulture robber barons.
McKim, Mead and White proposed to the owners of the Pennsylvania railroad that they would like to build, not a mansion for the chairman of the board, but a railroad station for the city.
And to do so they proposed to recreate a jewel of a building of ancient Rome.
Why not, they suggested to the railroad company, have the city’s new railroad station a recreation, if not an improvement, on the Baths of Caracalla, the masterpiece of Roman architecture as the Parthenon was the masterpiece of Greece?
Only Charles McKim or his dashing junior partner, Stanford White, would have the audacity and the skill to attempt such a thing.
It was done and in 1910 it was opened to the public who came in awestruck droves to gaze at the block long line of stately Doric columns, which led to the vast waiting room, which was indeed with its splendid vaulted ceiling a huge image of the Baths of Caracalla.
And from there you passed into the great concourse, where without catching breath, McKim had produced a creation of glass arches, domes and fan vaulting with the new steel – a breathtaking development of the glass and iron architecture of London’s Crystal Palace.
Americans who were not taking any train came to gaze and marvel at it. And so for a time did the European tourists.
But fashion in architecture, as in everything else, changes and can sometimes change drastically.
By the mid 20th Century the European intelligentsia came and looked at Pennsylvania Station and remained to chuckle and to sneer.
By that time America and American businessmen had been ordered to admire the revolutionary works of a German – Walter Gropius, a rebel against all classical romantic, all Victorian styles of architecture.
He invented what he called an international style.
By his time, certainly, a general reaction had set in against the gaudiness of the Victorian age, the fussiness, the writhing decoration, the lumpishness of furniture, the stuffiness which overtook everything from women’s clothes to lampshades.
When the Victorian style first came in the leading Regency architects of the day had called it ugly and barbaric.
And just a hundred years later, by the 1930s, it seems even the ordinary middle classes agreed with them.
And then came the fuehrer of the revolution – this new god of modern architecture, Walter Gropius.
He simply, earnestly, dogmatically reacted to everything that had gone before – from the Greeks on.
He invented the monolith – the large upright plank of concrete – or what an independent American pioneer, one Frank Lloyd Wright, called the new log cabin that misuses steel – “faceless, characterless, god-awful rectangles of concrete and steel”, leading, said Mr Wright, to its peak in the United Nations buildings which he called “an anthill for a thousand ants”.
Certainly the towering plank of glass and steel took over America’s cities.
And when the Second World War was over and building of everything from cottages to skyscrapers could begin again, Gropius, Mies van der Rohe – the so-called Bauhaus School – became almost compulsory for any city contemplating a new airport, a city hall, a big business about to bloom. The god himself ruled from his pulpit at Harvard.
Now, these tycoons didn’t have to like the style, it simply became essential to their social standing.
And so by the 1960s Tom Wolfe wrote: “There had never been a place on earth where so many people of wealth and power paid for, put up and moved into glass box office buildings they detested.”
By then every child went to school in a building that looks like a duplicating machine wholesale distribution warehouse.
In such an atmosphere there was only one thing more ridiculous than designing a Victorian or Georgian house and that was retaining the huge absurdity of a recreated Roman classical building.
Such is the hypocrisy of fashion that since the end of the Second War I don’t recall a visiting friend of tourist ever saying: “I must go down to 34th Street and look at Pennsylvania Station” as their successors would always obediently pad off to the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, the Whitney.
By that time nobody had heard of the Baths of Caracalla and nobody cared – except the board of directors of the Pennsylvania railroad, who decided in 1960 or thereabouts that their Roman station was an expensive burden and also something of an embarrassment.
They decided to destroy it. And so at 9am on 28 October 1963 the jackhammers clawed and the wrecking ball crashed down on the Doric pillars and soon would demolish what was the last reminder in New York of the grandeur that was Rome.
There had been no pre-emptive campaign of protest that I can remember.
It was only when the noisy fact of demolition assailed our eyes and ears that a collector or two, a startled author, and then the intelligentsia magazines woke up.
To its credit it was the New York Times that first sounded the protesting trumpet. On its editorial page it had a leader calling the demolition “a monumental act of vandalism”.
The little spurt of public shame and horror came of course too late. It took three years to destroy the station and on its ashes arose what the excellent blue guide to New York calls “the utterly graceless and unappealing Madison Square Garden” – a 20,000-seat arena in a pre-cast concrete drum, a movie theatre, a bowling alley and an office building.
However, out of this calamity, out of that ill October wind, there came one great and good thing.
In the last year of the demolition, when the long block at 34th Street began to look like a pre-vision of Ground Zero, a small clique of outraged artists, authors, art lovers, citizens, petitioned the mayor and then the city council and formed a body called The Landmarks Preservation Commission.
And since 1965 their agents have snooped around the city with the zeal of the FBI, ticketing period relics of every style of building to be preserved.
There was a big move in the 1970s on the part of the owners of the brilliant and majestic Grand Central Station to have it demolished and replaced by a 54-storied glass and steel Gropism.
The squabble was fierce and prolonged. Thanks however to the tenacity of two members of the Landmark Commission – one was man named Brandon Gill, a witty Irish American staff writer on the New Yorker magazine in its heyday, the other, the presidential widow Jacqueline Kennedy – the fight was taken all the way to the Supreme Court which upheld the protest and in 1978 decreed that Grand Central Station was to be immortal and never to be subject to the jackhammer and the wrecking ball.


HMS Caroline: The Ship’s the thing

After the Cutty Sark debacle, some good cheer. Another ship in another place has been turned into museum without being burnt to a frazzle, hoist out of water and travestied by being unceremoniously dropped into a modish glass and steel architectural hooped skirt (see below).

Moreover, it has just been announced that the ship in question, HMS Caroline, Belfast, is one of five final candidates for the Art Fund Museum of the Year Award. Plans to scrap this sole surviving British light cruiser and last surviving ship of the great Battle of Jutland in the First World War were thwarted by a £20 million restoration that was completed in 2018 after an intervention by the National Museum of the Royal Navy in 2011. That is the unalloyed good news: warships invariably are phenomenally eloquent historically and aesthetically purposive vessels.

The less good news is that the price of survival has been induction into the museum sector’s notoriously “woke” and “inclusive” protocols. The Artfund description is itself ominous: “HMS Caroline offers an extraordinary insight into naval history, maritime warfare and the story of the Irish sailor [and] now offers an inclusive and accessible space for everyone to enjoy.” Why must every museum be required to appeal to everyone? Surely, anyone can think of any number of museums that, while worthy, would hold little or no personal interest – just as no one could reasonably be expected to be equally interested in the contents of every library?

The Artfund continues, “An innovative learning programme and an immersive introductory exhibition in the newly renovated pump house surrounding the ship brings HMS Caroline’s long history and 90-year presence in Belfast alive.” If ArtWatch had a cultural pistol the term “immersive” might have us reaching for it. The value of art and museums lies in the thoughts and reflections they prompt and nourish in individuals. The experience is – or should be – the antithesis of a communal sheep dip. There are stories and there are stories. Not all are to everyone’s taste. All individuals should not be expected to think alike, to feel alike and to draw the same single and irresistible conclusion. One story that might or might not be being told today could be how, by fighting in the Battle of Jutland – in which the British fleet suffered heavier losses yet obliged the German fleet to retreat – the Irish sailors (many of whom were volunteers) helped frustrate Germany’s present European economic pre-eminence by more than half a century. But, regardless of surrounding narratives, by courtesy of the largest Heritage Lottery Fund grant ever – £11.5m in 2014 – the ship has survived for all to see. And what a splendid-looking vessel she is:

Above: Jamie Wilson, General Manager of HMS Caroline at the announcement in Belfast. Photos by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye.

And how crushing a reproach to the Cutty Sark project the outcome of the HMS Caroline restoration is:

It took a disastrous fire and Lord knows how many millions of pounds to produce the Greenwich Oxymoron above – a ship that has become, on the inside, a half-in, half-out museum exhibit wrested aloft and away from any supporting body of water like a stuffed whale in a natural history museum, and, from the outside, berthed like a sausage in a roll.

Except, that is, this particular landlocked, airborne ex-vessel, now doubles as themed stage-prop décor for a tatty café by day and a flexible serve-any-function “Venue-hire facility” by night. What a demeaning end for a ship that served so well, for so long with such grace and courage.

A PERSONAL NOTE AND ANOTHER STORY ALTOGETHER

HMS Caroline, even when tethered in repose, still cuts a finely honed seaworthy figure – naval architects, for sure, are all metaphysical aestheticians.

In any event, it so happens that this draughtsman, captivated by ships since childhood, has designed many a maritime homage, as above right.

A second, later passion was for the sculpture and architecture of the nautically accomplished peoples of ancient Greece. The Greeks permanently transformed world culture by, among countless achievements, making stone smile and flutter in the wind. The Louvre, blessed with the incomparable “Victory of Samothrace” has done everything in the power of its curators and “conservators” to strip that sculpture of any hint of a pre-existent state so as to produce the present sorry raw bruised stone surface that so shocked and dismayed Euphrosyne Doxiadis – see Barbarism at the Louvre

Michael Daley, 26 April 2019


Notre-Dame Cathedral: Another restoration, another fire – and more unanswered questions

The Notre-Dame Cathedral inferno was not an act of God. It arose within a particular restoration programme under a singular (ambivalent) French heritage ethos that has spawned many fires – these include, as our colleague Michel Favre-Felix of ARIPA (Association Internationale pour le Respect de l’Intégrité du Patrimoine Artistique) points out: interventions on the roof of Saint Pierre cathedral in Nantes which had led to a similar blaze disaster in 1972, and, in the very same conditions again, on Nantes’ basilica Saint Donatien in 2015; a fire caused by repairs that had threatened Amiens’ cathedral in 1987; and, a severe roof fire that destroyed unique paintings in the Hôtel Lambert, an architectural jewel of the XVIIth century in Paris, during its controversial restoration in 2013.

In the wake of the shocking cataclysm in Paris, joining up restoration’s conflagration dots seems more urgent than ever. The pattern of occurrences and reoccurrences is not confined to France. Collectively it might all be taken to reflect gross international laxity in today’s heritage stewardship regardless of administrative systems. Consider the circumstances of the following seven fires.

CASE 1: NOTRE-DAME CATHEDRAL, PARIS

See various comments below.

CASE 2: NOTRE-DAME CATHEDRAL, LUXEMBOURG

On 5 April 1985, welding work caused a fire in the belfry of Luxembourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral’s west tower which then collapsed, destroying the bells and part of the roof. It was repaired within the year.

CASE 3: WINDSOR CASTLE

The United Kingdom, under less centralised heritage management than France, is scarcely less fire-afflicted. In 1992 the Great Fire at Windsor Castle (above) occurred when picture restorations were taking place in the Queen’s Private Chapel. A number of accounts of the cause were given but all contained a lamp, a curtain and picture restoration paraphernalia. The outcome was a fire-gutted chapel that cost £36.5 million to repair and reconstruct as closely as possible to “as was”.

Grievously damaged ancient buildings often unleash anti-history, would-be “modernising” impulses. Today, at the Notre-Dame Cathedral, President Macron, already a self-styled political Jupiter (who was possibly still in school shorts when the Louvre sprouted its pyramid), instantly assumed the role of Style King and licensed the modernisers by plucking an arbitrary five-year target date to rebuild Notre-Dame with the inducement “an element of modern architecture could be imagined” and the accompanying assurance that such a recreation will be even better than before (“more beautiful”). In consequence, war has broken out already between those who would make good the injuries and return the cathedral to its pre-conflagration state and those who would insinuate today’s professionally-dominant tastes and anti-style predilections. (The unfolding of that important debate merits separate examination.)

CASE 4: CUTTY SARK

On 21 May 2007, the famous tea clipper, the Cutty Sark, was gutted by fire during restoration (above) at Greenwich. The ship’s sprinklers had been removed for the duration of the renovation. No fire alarm went off. The fire burned through all three decks, destroying all the building work structures and tools onboard. A planned £25 million renovation then became a transforming “more than £50m” rebuild that took two extra years. The ship – a globe-traversing maritime Concorde of its day – was left too weakened to support itself in water. Against highly expert advice from within and without the project, it was then raised off the ground and entombed on stilts within a modernist architectural techno-swank steel and glass structure covering a dry dock that had become a themed visitors’ centre (£13.50 entrance). This new ship/building hybrid (below) presents to the world as a sagging turquoise conservatory with a part-visible boat on top and is set in a sanitised, municipalised space with not a drop of water or a single bollard in sight:

Architecture and Interiors photography by Jim Stephenson / clickclickjim

Within this modernist makeover visitors are denied the opportunity to see real artefacts like the ship’s historic log books and instead are offered electronic “interactivity” (shaped, as always, by unseen programmers and their unexamined agendas) and off-ship catering facilities:

PHILISTINE POLITICAL GRANDSTANDING

In February 2010 the super-sleuth journalist, Andrew Gilligan, reported in the Telegraph that the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, had promised that the Cutty Sark, already in restoration since 2006, would be “brought back to its former glory” in time for the Olympics. “It will be yet another jewel for visitors in 2012 to enjoy,” Mr Brown predicted, notwithstanding the fact that the project’s chief engineer, Peter Mason, had resigned on grounds that the restoration should be “stopped and reviewed” because it will “damage the fabric of the ship” and could cause it to fall apart. The project had run massively late and over-budget and its main backer, the Heritage Lottery Fund, had cut off payments for most of a year amid “serious concerns” over the “governance and financial controls” of the restoration project. Prime Minister Brown, however, very much inclined to equate high-spending with “investment-in-the-future”. The Olympic Games opened in July 2012. The Cutty Sark was finally reopened four months later in November 2012 by Her Majesty the Queen, for whom the occasion might have seemed like deja vu all over again.

No one will ever again see the sleek majesty of the hull and its great projecting bowsprit rising above a body of water, as above, top, when first arriving in Greenwich in 1954 and, left, when opened by the Queen in 1957, and below, top, when opened by the Queen, and left, when resting on its keel in dry dock.

BORN FREE, FREE AS THE WIND BLOWS…

While the spirit of the ship may live on in the imagination, and in depictions, as above, the vessel itself will never again move in response to a breeze or see water. She is frozen permanently and propped (perilously, perhaps) in modernist aspic, sans water, sans buoyancy, sans motion, sans mobility. She now has no natural flexibility in the face of high winds which will inescapably subject her greatly weakened hull to unequal and un-natural stresses and tensions. She has literally been left high and dry. Ships are built from the bottom upwards on their keels. They can support themselves on their keels in dry docks with surprisingly few steadying props but Cutty Sark has been hoisted in the air and held entirely aloft on props around her hull. The fire-weakened vessel’s full weight now rests entirely on those props. The consequences of a possible second fire amidst the catering facilities do not bear thinking about.

CASE 5: GLASGOW SCHOOL OF ART

Above, as reported by the Mirror, the June 2018 conflagration – the second burning down of Charles Rennie Macintosh’s Glasgow School of Art – occurred towards the end of the restoration that followed the May 2014 fire. That restoration had cost £36million. It was said to have been caused by an unattended continuous slide projection unit forming part of a student’s final year exam presentation. As with the Cutty Sark, the art school’s sprinkler system had been removed during the second restoration. The second fire was found to have been started by oily rags. Such materials are a known fire hazard: when stored in restricted spaces where heat cannot dissipate they self-combust. A spokesman for the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association has said that while automatic fire sprinklers had not been fitted while the building was undergoing restoration, “it should be realised that sprinklers can be fitted in buildings throughout construction on a temporary basis, as there is a considerable risk from fire during this period”. Not only had a new or a temporary sprinkler system not been installed, the removal of the old sprinklers, as the BBC reported on 17 January 2019 (“Fire expert ‘puzzled’ over art school mist system”) had itself been found mystifying:

“Holyrood’s culture committee has been taking evidence on the circumstances surrounding the second blaze. On Thursday it heard from independent fire, security and resilience adviser Stephen Mackenzie. Speaking about the equipment, which relies on cooling mist to extinguish flames, committee member Tavish Scott asked Mr Mackenzie: ‘The committee wasn’t told it was removed after the first fire and we are all puzzled as to why it would have been removed. Why would it have been removed?’ Mr Mackenzie said: ‘I’m also puzzled as an expert.’” The second rebuild is expected to cost £100million.

COMMON CAUSES

The Cutty Sark fire was found to have been caused by a blocked industrial vacuum cleaner that was left switched on and unattended over a weekend. Investigation found that unattended electrical equipment was often left plugged in; that there were loose electrical connections on the site; and, that building work debris was not removed immediately. In short, the fire had broken out and run out of control because of grossly bad practices and truly rotten management. Security guards first failed to carry out patrols and spot the start of the fire and then falsified their log book – see “Vacuum cleaner caused £10 million pound Cutty Sark fire as guards slept.

CASE 6: CLANDON PARK

Faulty electrics were said by a fire officer to have caused the devastating spontaneous (albeit not restoration-linked) fire, above, that gutted Clandon Park and its contents in 2015: “The cause of the fire was a faulty connection in the fuse board…We believe a lack of fire protection to the ceiling of the electrical fuse cupboard allowed the fire to spread quickly to the room above, and it then spread throughout the house owing to its historic design.”

CASE 7: THE TURIN SHROUD

On 11 April 1997, the Turin Shroud had its third known encounter with fire. The dome of the Guarini Chapel, which was undergoing renovation for forthcoming public exhibitions, caught fire. It spread quickly and engulfed the chapel interior. Fortunately, the Shroud’s custodians had moved it from the chapel’s altar to a safer place inside the Cathedral itself while the restoration was underway. The Shroud’s silver casket had been placed behind bullet-proof plate glass which firemen smashed before taking the casket to the apartment of Cardinal Giovanni Saldarini, Archbishop of Turin and Custodian of the Shroud, for safekeeping. The incident is vividly told here with more photographs captured by RAI Italian Television. Whatever the status of the Shroud is taken to be that incident shows that the safety of an artefact can sometimes be treated as a matter of paramount importance.

WHAT STARTED THE NOTRE-DAME CONFLAGRATION?

With the extensive, entire-cathedral threatening fire at Notre-Dame (above), the Mailonline reported that a young construction boss had boasted about the ability of his small firm (“Cathedral Restorers”) to protect historic sites when it won a £5million contract to repair the Notre-Dame spire. Investigators reportedly believe the blaze started in the roof cavity below the spire – see below. It has since been denied that work had begun on the spire itself or that tools were present. The last of a group of large free-standing copper sculptures that surrounded the base of the spire (as also seen below) had been removed just days before the fire.
The blaze is now said to have been discovered at “around 6.50 pm” after workers reportedly downed tools between 5pm and 5.30pm. It has not been said what those workers had been doing or with what tools they had been working. According to investigators, an alarm had gone off at 6.20pm but no fire was found. The alarm sounded again at 6.43pm, by which time the flames were already burning out of control and visible across Paris. The contagion’s unaddressed half hour before the second alarm might have had even more disastrous consequences: the Notre-Dame fire-fighters had been within half an hour of losing control of the blaze and, hence, of being able to save the cathedral’s stone fabric. It would seem that this end was only achieved by an astute structural appraisal and the decision by the fire-fighters to sacrifice part of the interior in order to protect the massive timbers of the bell tower which buttresses the accumulated lateral thrust of the nave vaulting and thereby prevents the collapse of the building. (See the Architect’s Newspaper“Here’s what saved the Notre Dame Cathedral from total destruction” )

GENERAL LESSONS

As the fire raged late into the evening of Monday 15 April, many despaired throughout France. Our colleague, the Leonardo specialist Jacques Franck, wrote:

“…We are all in tears. Just think of the same happening to Westminster Abbey and you’ll know how we feel tonight. All I can say is that we are all shattered and desperately sad: the unthinkable has destroyed 50% of France’s most beautiful cathedral! Whatever the cause of the fire, disasters of this kind should never happen. In my country the law forces ordinary people, that’s to say those not owning historical monuments with precious contents, to put warning signals in any flat or house so that the slightest sign of fire can be detected at any moment. Was it not the case in this emblematic building which had resisted the worst, wars and revolutions, through nearly a millennium? Notre-Dame will be reconstructed but the precious and unique works of art it contained are gone for ever. It is a shame that the French cultural authorities did not make such a terrible event impossible, given that all the security techniques to prevent it exist nowadays.”

In the event, although the catastrophe was less than total (the extent of the damage to the building’s stone fabric after its ordeal by fire and massive volumes of water and resulting steam, remains to be established) it seems clear that it is only through the great courage and good judgement of the fire-fighters that much of the building still stands. Had the ancient stone vaulting not largely withstood the crashing and burning spire and giant roof timbers the entire length of the cathedral including the bell Tower would likely have been engulfed. Franck’s charge of manifest official negligence still stands, a week later and as disturbing reports of prior negligence by the authorities have emerged through Italy, a French newspaper and a French arts blog.

In the 22 April 2019 La Tribune del l’Art, blog (“Audrey Azoulay est-elle légitime pour s’occuper de Notre-Dame?”) Didier Rykner points out that an alarming report on the security of the Notre-Dame in Paris had been in the French administration’s hands since 2016. The existence of this report was disclosed by the French newspaper, Marianne, on April 18 (“Notre-Dame de Paris : “Nous avions alerté le CNRS sur les risques d’incendie””). The newspaper published an interview with Paolo Vannucci, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Versailles, which revealed that a study funded by the CNRS (- the National Centre for Scientific Research, and therefore the State) was carried out in 2016 on the safety of Notre-Dame de Paris, especially in the event of a terrorist attack. The study had concluded, it was said, that: “the risk of a burning of the roof existed”, and “it was absolutely necessary to protect and install a system of extinction”. It was further disclosed that: “In truth, there was virtually no fire protection system, especially in the attic where there was no electrical system to avoid the risk of short circuit and spark.” Worse: even lightning could trigger a fire (- much as had happened at York Minster in July 2009) and it was therefore necessary “to install a whole system of prevention”. Rykner reports that Prof. Vannucci, had confirmed that there were no smoke or heat detectors and believed that “the government was well aware” of this absence. Vannucci had attended a concluding meeting at the Ministry of Education with seven or eight people from different institutions. While he did not remember whether a representative of the Ministry of Culture was present he found it hard to imagine that the ministry, which is in charge of the Notre-Dame monument, would not have been made aware of such an alarming report, not least because although the CNRS is under the supervision of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, it has very close links with the Ministry of Culture.

What would seem on the fire-fighters’ forensic analysis to be beyond question, is that the fire began underneath the base of the spire from around which the group of copper sculptures had just been removed (see above). What might also be considered, perhaps, beyond dispute is that today’s custodians of western heritage have become astonishingly un-averse to risk-taking in their stewardship of artefacts – even when those artefacts comprise integral parts of ancient cathedrals.

In 2014 we complained that the authorities at Canterbury Cathedral had permitted six whole windows, each with a single monumental seated figure that, in its grandeur and gravity, had anticipated Michelangelo’s giant Sistine Chapel ceiling prophets, to be packed and sent off across the Atlantic (see above) to tour American Museums – even though these were now the only surviving parts of an original cycle of eighty-six ancestors of Christ that had once formed one of the most comprehensive stained-glass cycles known in art history. The pattern and the gravity of heritage stewardship failures seems clear and beyond dispute but from where might the will to correct it spring?

Michael Daley, 23 April 2019


Exhibition: Sargy Mann, Late Paintings

A most remarkable exhibition is running until March 10th at the Royal Drawing School (19–22 Charlotte Road, London EC2A 3SG).

Can a blind man paint? We would not ask if a blind man could think or feel. Sargy Mann saw, felt and thought when sighted. In a sighted painter, thinking and feeling are intensified by habit, by professional engagement and by sheer practice. By the concentrated act of painting, thoughts and feelings are imprinted, stored and collated in the mind and thereby provide templates and springboards for further artistic skirmishes. Mann showed through failing and eventual complete loss of sight that art is driven by minds; that powers honed through a lifetime’s practice are primarily imaginative, conceptual and, by no means, exclusively sight-dependent; that even a catastrophic loss of visual powers cannot thwart artistic will; that an artist’s mind is supreme.

Sargy Mann (1937-2015) continued painting for the last ten years of his life after becoming completely blind. We know that an artist can draw with his eyes shut; can draw unseen objects from memory; can draw non-existent imagined objects. Rodin made drawings without taking his eyes off moving figures so as to fix their transient, momentary essentials by a felt but, at the moment of execution, unobserved drawing. A newspaper illustrator once had to make drawings of actors in character during opening-night performances. Because being seen drawing would have constituted an offensive distraction, he carried a short pencil and a small sketchbook in a jacket pocket and drew, hand-in-pocket, as he looked, recording and fixing features in his mind’s eye. Afterwards, he was able to produce finished caricatures for publication from his un-seen but physically recorded observations and notations. We know, of course, that composers can write music when deaf. We have long known that artists have adapted variously to declining levels of sightedness. As Degas lost sight he turned from the depiction of figures to plastic realisations of them – but, then, he had also once claimed that he would have preferred to make his fabulous dancer drawings in monochrome and had only added pastel colours to encourage their sales.

This exhibition of a blind man’s late paintings testifies to a remarkable artist and artistic intelligence no less than to a tenacious and courageous spirit. Mann’s works, writings and lectures can be seen in an excellent dedicated archive but, if at all possible, this handsome sensitively arranged exhibition should not be missed. In it, the viewer can stand before the often large canvases and in, as it were, the very space which Mann had occupied when painting his spatially and pictorially arranged figures as if seen from nature when in fact deduced from tactile/spatial awareness and recollected experiences. It must have been the case that Mann was proceeding in many respects as before when sighted – certainly, there had always been a strong “mapping” organising and orchestrating imperative in Mann’s painting as well as his highly attuned receptivity to light-generated colours and surfaces, as can be seen in figs. 2 and 3 below.

One might have imagined that with the complete loss of sight, engagement with the transient, perpetually shifting consequences and effects of light would, of necessity, have atrophied. Not so. With Mann, in a most unprecedented and unexpected development, as the figures became more classically affirmative, self-contained and monumental, so too, the colour chords intensified to a remarkable vibrancy and forcefulness as seen below at Figs. 4 and 5. This is not an exhibition to miss but it does close on the tenth of this month.

CODA

Sargy Mann (above) was an early and long-supportive member of ArtWatch. His exceptionally acute art critical intelligence and conceptual adroitness was well in evidence when, in 2000 with already failing sight, he produced the cautionary essay below on the shoals and perils of restoring drawings:

Michael Daley, Director, 7 March 2019


The Louvre Museum’s bizarre charge of “fake information” on the $450 million Salvator Mundi

The Louvre Museum in Paris has attacked one of its own named Leonardo restoration consultants – Jacques Franck – with professional disparagement and an allegation of having conveyed “fake information”.

Above, Fig. 1: Left, the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi as when taken in 2005 (still sticky from a recent treatment) to the New York studio of the restorer Dianne Dwyer Modestini; right, as when taken in 2008 by one of the consortium of owners, Robert Simon, to the National Gallery in London for a covert viewing by a small group of Leonardo specialists.

Above, Fig 2: Left, the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi as exhibited in the National Gallery’s 2011-12 exhibition Leonardo da Vinci – Painter at the Court of Milan; right, as seen at the end of Modestini’s restoration programmes in 2017 at Christie’s, New York.

Whenever vicious personal attacks are made by institutions on experts, two things should always be considered: what, precisely, is being said; and, what has been left unsaid. The Louvre’s Trumpian “Fake information” slur on Franck was made by its press officers in response to a report by Dalya Alberge in the Sunday Telegraph (“Paris Louvre ‘will not show’ world’s most expensive painting amid doubts over authenticity”) that the Leonardo painting technique specialist, Jacques Franck, has been told by high level politicians that the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi will not be included in the Paris Louvre’s forthcoming Leonardo exhibition and that Louvre staff “know that the Salvator Mundi is not a Leonardo”.

Jacques Franck’s role as advisor to the Louvre’s Leonardo restorations

In attempts to defuse and refute Franck’s (honest) testimony, the museum’s press officers have also scattered red herrings and sown misinformation. To the Mailonline (“Is the world’s most expensive painting a FAKE?”) they claimed that:

“M. Franck was part of the scholars who have been consulted 7 or 8 years ago for the restoration of the Saint Ann.

“He is not currently working on the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition and has never been curator for the Louvre.

“His opinion is his personal opinion, not the one of the Louvre.”

It should go without saying that when called by the Louvre to give technical advice, Franck’s expert views are his own and not those of the museum – why else would he be being called in? No one had claimed that Franck is a Louvre curator. No one had claimed he is working on the Louvre’s forthcoming Leonardo exhibition. So, contrary to appearances, nothing was being refuted. However, on the extent and frequency of his contributions, it would seem that the Louvre’s officials have misinformed the museum’s spokeswomen who have in consequence scattered seriously misleading accounts around the press.

Contrary to their claims to the press, Franck’s association with the Louvre had not ended in 2011-12 after the controversial restoration of Leonardo’s the “Virgin and Child with St Anne” – see Endnote 2 and Figs. 8, 9 and 10. In 2014 his advice was sought by the Louvre when it planned to restore Leonardo’s portrait of the Belle Ferronnière (see Figs. 3 and 4 below). Vincent Pomarède was the Head of Paintings at the time, he had launched the project but before the restoration began he was appointed principal Assistant to the Louvre Museum’s Chairman. He was replaced by Sébastien Allard as Head of Paintings, who became ipso facto, as is the usual custom in the Louvre, the Chair of the scientific advisory committee, while Pomarède retained a prominent role in that committee, partly on account of having promoted the project when Head of Paintings, and also on account of being close to the Louvre’s own Chairman. At this stage he decided that Franck’s contribution was officially that of his special “private adviser” during “all the time that restoration would last”.

Two years later, in 2016, when the cleaning of Leonardo’s Saint John-the-Baptist started, Franck was asked jointly with Ségolène Bergeon Langle, the former head of Conservation in the Louvre (and a legendary figure of the French museums’ restoration), to supply “all remarks and advice” to the then new head of Paintings, Sébastien Allard, on joint visits to see the painting with him in the conservation studio.

The Paris Louvre’s inscrutable position on the Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi

The case against Franck, as offered by the Louvre press office on 18 February to the Art Newspaper (“’We want Salvator Mundi’ for Leonardo blockbuster, Louvre says”) rested on two claimed statements of fact: that “the Musée du Louvre has asked for the loan of the Salvator Mundi for its October exhibition and truly wishes to exhibit the artwork”; and, that “the owner has not given his answer yet.”

Those claims are utterly perplexing. As the Art Newspaper noted, the Louvre’s statement suggests that the painting is not, after all, owned by the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, but by a single individual, widely believed to be Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Can that really be the case? If so, when did the Paris Louvre make a direct request to him to borrow his painting for its big celebratory 2019 Leonardo exhibition? The terse but vague Louvre phrase “has asked” gives no indication of the timing of the request but the Louvre was understood, like the Royal Academy, to have requested such a loan in the immediate aftermath of the Salvator Mundi’s triumphant $450 million sale in November 2017. Was that earlier request renewed, or is it the sole and original request to which the Paris Louvre press office now refers? Either way, the question arises: What grounds has the Crown Prince given to the Paris Louvre museum for withholding his permission to borrow the Salvator Mundi?

Curatorial Dogs that have not barked

Could it be that the Paris Louvre does still wish to include the Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi (it would be immensely politically embarrassing for it to exclude the Abu Dhabi Louvre Museum painting from this year’s long-planned Leonardo extravaganza) but is no longer prepared to describe the painting in its own catalogue and literature as it was described first in the National Gallery exhibition of 2011-12 and later by Christie’s at its 2017 sale – namely, as a Salvator Mundi that “was painted by Leonardo da Vinci [and that] is the single original painting from which the many copies and student versions depend”? If, however, as today’s press officers imply but do not expressly state, the curators and the director of the Louvre really do presently consider the Abu Dhabi painting to be precisely as described in Christie’s’ sale literature, why was no one with curatorial authority at the museum prepared to make that claim publicly and within the official response to Franck’s cited contrary testimony? For that matter, has any Paris Louvre curator ever supported the Salvator Mundi’s Leonardo ascription in written scholarly form?

At the same time, is it not also possible that the Salvator Mundi’s individual owner or the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum – whichever presently pertains – will not accede to a loan request on anything less than an assurance from the Paris Louvre that, if included in the major Leonardo anniversary exhibition, it will be categorised as an entirely and unquestionably secure autograph Leonardo prototype painting? If such possibilities are not the case, what exactly has been the cause of the fifteen month-long stand-off between Paris and Abu Dhabi and the cause of the latter’s failure to exhibit the painting – or, even, to disclose its whereabouts? As for the present ownership, after the work was auctioned in November 2017, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism released a statement saying it had acquired the work for the new Louvre Abu Dhabi museum.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi’s undisclosed whereabouts

The Abu Dhabi museum was scheduled to launch the Salvator Mundi last September but it cancelled its own event with no explanation. It had been widely expected that the Louvre Abu Dhabi would announce plans to exhibit its Salvator Mundi on the 10 February 2018 official visit of the French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who toured the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum on Saadiy island in the Emirati capital, specifically to launch the French-Emirati “Year of Cultural Dialogue” in the company of Shiekh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, CEO of Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. But once again, the world’s most expensive painting made a no-show on a no-explanation: the Minister and the CEO both declined to answer any questions about the unexplained decision not to exhibit the painting in Abu Dhabi. (See “A day in the life of the new Louvre Abu Dhabi Annexe’s pricey new Leonardo Salvator Mundi ” and Fig. 5 below.)

Above, Fig. 5: The French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe (centre) poses with Shiekh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (right), CEO of Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, during inauguration of BNP paribas Abu Dhabi Global market Branch on February 10, 2018, as photographed by Karim Sahib for AFP and featured in Art Daily’s “The Best Photos of the Day” on February 11, 2018.

Whatever the problem was on those two earlier occasions, it is clear on the Paris Louvre’s press office’s latest statements that that blockage remains in place – just as the whereabouts of the painting itself remain undisclosed fifteen months after the painting was sold for a world record price. The essential question therefore remains outstanding: Why will the Abu Dhabi Louvre museum neither exhibit its own Salvator Mundi painting nor agree to lend it to the Paris Mother-Museum? In truth, the issue here is not one of fake information by critics of the attribution, but of a bizarre combined refusal by two museums and/or a prince to explain their own repeatedly aborted-actions and prolonged failures to reach an agreement or disclose information.

If Franck’s sources are correct in claiming that the Paris Louvre Museum has lost confidence in the Salvator Mundi as an autograph Leonardo, then an explanation for the present perplexing state of affairs offers itself: there exists today a perfect state of mutual paralysis as the Louvre wishes to avoid an international, inter-governmental embarrassment by including the Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi painting but not as an accredited autograph work; while the owner(s) will gladly lend it but not as an attributed work of Leonardo’s studio.

The present manifest disinclination of the Louvre’s own officers and curators to make any personal declaration of confidence in this Salvator Mundi’s Leonardo attribution is encountered also among almost all of the painting’s original dozen or so Christie’s-cited supporters. If, as the Paris Louvre’s press officers claim, the Abu Dhabi painting really does retain the confidence of both the museum’s own curatorial staff and the dozen or so scholars identified as supporters by Christie’s ahead of the sale, as an autograph work of Leonardo, they would all seem to share a funny way of not-showing it. As things stand, and as we were reported as saying in the 17 February Sunday Telegraph, “What we now have is effectively an un-dead painting – no one believes in it; no one will say where it is; no one can lay it to rest.”

Endnote 1:

Experience shows that on matters of art restoration Louvre press office claims are sometimes best taken with a pinch of salt. In 2010 we carried a report of a covert second repainting at the Louvre of a face in a Veronese painting – see “A spectacular restoration own-goal: undoing, re-doing and (on the quiet) re-re-doing a Veronese masterpiece at the Louvre Museum.”

Above, Figs. 6 and 7: However good their intentions, however avowedly “ethical” their professional codes, restorers, like forgers (who are often themselves restorers or ex-restorers), cannot avoid leaving personal imprints and those of their cultural milieus in their repainting. The more ambitious the aspirant, the more deficiencies of artistic reading and anatomical understanding can be imposed on mute works of art. The Louvre Veronese restorer above seemed in thrall to the pneumatic forms and miniaturised features of Botero. That such eccentric aesthetic predilections should ever have been institutionally authorised would augur badly for the Mona Lisa herself in a Louvre Museum today where the curators are bingeing on radical restorations as they play catch-up with the technological adventurism long-encountered in British and American museums.

In June 2010 when the arts journalist Dalya Alberge asked for explanations of this second covert and unrecorded repainting of the Veronese face, the Louvre press officer stated that the restoration had consisted of the painting being merely “scrubbed up” (“bichonnée” – a term normally used for very light interventions such as dusting or retouching a minor scratch unnoticed in the museum etc). That the museum’s official description bore little connection with the pictorial truth of the situation can be seen at glance above at Figs. 6 and 7 and here:

“Louvre masterpiece by Veronese ‘mutilated’ by botched nose jobs”.

Endnote 2:

On the Paris Louvre’s controversial restoration of Leonardo’s the “Virgin and Child with St Anne”, see:

“The Louvre Leonardo Restoration Committee Resignations”;

“What Price a Smile? The Louvre Leonardo Mouths that are Now at Risk”;

“Another Restored Leonardo, Another Sponsored Celebration – Ferragamo at the Louvre…”;

“Rocking the Louvre: the Bergeon Langle Disclosures on a Leonardo da Vinci restoration”.

Above, Figs. 8, 9 and 10: Top and centre, a detail of the Louvre’s “Virgin and Child with St Anne”, before restoration, left; after restoration, right. Above a detail of the Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi, as exhibited at the National Gallery in 2011, left, as sold at Christie’s in 2017.

In the above three sequences we can see the principal twin consequences of “restoration” procedures: with a bona fide Leonardo masterpiece (top and centre) values are diminished and degraded. With a not-Leonardo, above, we see attempts to move a painting further towards a modern conception of what bona fide Leonardos look like. The outcomes – degradation or falsification – can occur on the same work. There are more restorers than ever before in history and they are ceaselessly working and re-working a finite pool of old master paintings which resemble themselves less and less. Pontormos and Giorgiones alike increasing resemble coloured drawings.

Michael Daley, Director, 22 February 2019


The Leonardo Salvator Mundi Part I: Not “Pear-shaped” – Dead in the water

The attribution of the world’s most expensive painting – the $450 million Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi – has collapsed under the combined weights of two scholars’ findings and the picture’s own artistic and art historical implausibility. Having disappeared immediately after its world-record sale at Christie’s, New York, in November 2017, this Leonardo-in-hiding is also mired in allegations of a joint involvement in the sale by presidents Trump and Putin. The toxic proximity of those two heads of state is a matter of intense national political concern in the United States where high-level official investigations are underway – as are a number of legal actions concerning auction house buyer/seller conflicts of interest. As those disputes play out, we consider the workings of today’s art historical and art market interface.

THE ART CRITICAL CONTEXT

In the 1990s we claimed common failures of connoisseurship in bad restorations and misattributions but thought the latter less serious because potentially correctable. That distinction is dissolving as increasingly many upgrading attributions are made on the back of “improving” restoration transformations. Generally speaking, connoisseurship shortcomings are evident in failures to detect outright fake old masters and in too-ready acceptances of elevated restoration-enhanced school works. Purpose-made fakes are closely related in their fabrications to the painted “recoveries” of supposedly original authentic appearances on stripped-down pictures. (See “A Restorer’s Aim – The fine line between retouching and forgery”.) The fakery of artificially distressed new paint and false painted craquelure is common to routine restorations; to restoration-assisted upgrades; and, to outright fakes. On the additional, extraordinary rise of the “painted-in” insinuation of computer-generated virtual reality into old master pictures, see “The New Relativisms and the Death of ‘Authenticity’” and Fig. 4 below.

Above, Fig. 2: Top row, the Metropolitan Museum’s Duccio Madonna and Child, as seen in 1904 and in 2004 (when sold for c. $50 million); above, the Leonardo Salvator Mundi as seen in c. 2005 and in 2017 (when sold for $450 million).

Above, Fig. 3: Top row, the present Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi painting as seen in 1912 and when sold in November 2017. Bottom row: as at the same dates but showing some intermediary restoration states.

Attributions, like restorations, are made in socio-cultural contexts. Here, we examine the marketing of the upgraded Salvator Mundi with reference to the marketing of a picture that had received a spectacular upgrading a century earlier – the Metropolitan Museum’s 2004 acquisition of a tiny Duccio Madonna and Child. In both cases we see elevations of studio works that had first emerged at the beginning of the 20th century and were converted through restorations into claimed major autograph works. In both cases, when viewed dispassionately and art critically, the upgraded works are seen to stand anomalous within their allotted oeuvres. In both cases, the elevations thwarted the articulation of potentially more fruitful and better informed art historical narratives.

In studying the two cases we encounter errors of connoisseurship that rest on plain failures to look; failures to discern; and failures to make use of the sharpest art critical tool in the connoisseur’s tool box – the humble photo-comparison. This methodological abstemiousness can seem wilful and perverse as much as neglectful – some disavow photo-testimony outright as a critical tool. In the visual arts, and with today’s greatly enhanced photographic means of reproduction and transmission, there can no excuse for advocates’ declining to provide visual demonstrations of claims made in support of attributions or restorations.

THE PROBLEMS OF SCHOLARLY ADVOCACY ON THE MARKET

Where once a respected scholar might have proposed an attribution in an academic journal or forum in anticipation of critical responses, today, at the high end of the art market, teams of professional supporters are assembled one-by-one behind the scenes prior to some Big Media Announcement of a “discovered” masterpiece. Within such procedures, successive scholars’ invitations to appraise works are inescapably compromised by awareness of already committed supporters. At a certain point of accumulated critical mass it can be felt a) tempting to join and/or b) professionally unwise to dissent openly. A sense can grow that nothing will be permitted to count as evidence against that which has been collectively endorsed, and that any opposition will incur a risk of being dubbed a “hostile” party. At the low end, the trade euphemism for the many restoration-enhanced upgrades is “a sleeper”.

RECENT ARTWATCH WARNINGS AND ENGAGEMENTS

ArtWatch warnings on the Salvator Mundi’s Leonardo attribution: 1) On 11 November 2011 we pointed out (letter, the Times, Fig. 5 above) that the Salvator Mundi painting then on exhibition as a Leonardo at the National Gallery, and that is now the Louvre Abu Dhabi picture, lacked a sophisticated optical effect copied in 1650 by Wenceslaus Hollar from a painting then thought to be a Leonardo. 2) On 19 October 2017, nearly a month ahead of the 15 November sale of the Salvator Mundi at Christie’s, New York, we objected (in the Guardian) that the painting was inconsistent with Leonardo’s depictions of figures; that it lacked the sophisticated optical effects copied by Hollar; and, that there was insufficient evidence to support a Leonardo attribution. 3) On 14 November 2017, the day before the Salvator Mundi sale at Christie’s, New York, we warned that the provenances compiled by the National Gallery in 2011 and Christie’s in 2017 were unsupported, inflated and overly-reliant on then (and still) unpublished researches of one of the work’s first owners – see “Problems with the New York Leonardo Salvator Mundi Part I: Provenance and Presentation”.

CHRISTIE’S MARKETING OF A SALVATOR MUNDI AS A “MALE MONA LISA” AND AN EARLIER CASE

Above, top, Fig. 6: Left, Loïc Gouzer, co-chairman of Americas post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s stands next to “Untitled” by Jean-Michel Basquiat during a Christie’s, New York, press preview; right, the Salvator Mundi when sold as a Leonardo at Christie’s, New York, on 15 November 2017 – the last time it was publicly seen. (It is presently rumoured to be in a Freeport storage depot in Switzerland.)

Gouzer, who is leaving Christie’s, had claimed: “Young people look at Leonardo the same way they look at Basquiat.”

The day after Christie’s 15 November 2017 sale of the $450million Salvator Mundi, Thomas Campbell, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, observed that the “eye-popping” price was no surprise in a market where “speculation, marketing and branding have displaced connoisseurship as the metrics of value”.

Todd Levin, an art adviser, told the New York Times: “This was a thumping epic triumph of branding and desire over connoisseurship and reality.” (See “How Salvator Mundi became the most expensive painting ever sold at auction”.)

George Goldner, former chairman of drawings and prints at the Metropolitan Museum, has said the allure of the Salvator Mundi “has nothing to do with art and everything to do with money,” and that “If you were to spend $450m on a rare car or diamond and put it on display, a lot of people would come to see it. If the Salvator Mundi had sold for $20m, nobody would go. Any painting that sells for $450m will attract crowds for a while. Then, all of a sudden, people won’t care anymore”.

THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM DUCCIO MADONNA AND CHILD

Above, Fig. 7: Three views of the Metropolitan Museum’s Duccio Madonna and Child

Goldner is right of course – who queues now to see the Met’s famous “Duccio” (Fig. 7, above) which, like the Leonardo Salvator Mundi, emerged at the beginning of the 20th century with no history? The then recently restored Duccio had been launched by Berenson’s wife (Mary Logan) and a protégé (Frederick Mason Perkins) in 1904 at a time when Florence was “a factory of forgers”, according to Federico Zeri, and with modern wire nails embedded under its ancient and battered gilded gesso. By further coincidence, both pictures arrived at the beginning of this century after long absences (1949 to 2004 for the Met Duccio, 1958 to 2005 for what is now the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi-in-storage.)

In hindsight, the sale of the $50 million Duccio in 2004 served Christie’s as a model for that of the Salvator Mundi. The task in both cases was to market as an absolutely secure blue chip autograph old master, a work that had arrived very late in the historical day, without provenance, and from within a large group of related but artistically diverse pictures. Both works were successfully presented by Christie’s, on substantial expert authority, when, on a full art critical and documentary interrogation, neither can safely be so regarded.

Although we still cannot examine the Salvator Mundi’s unpublished technical literature, with the Duccio we can (thanks to earlier generous assistance from Keith Christiansen, the John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of European Paintings at the Met) examine that picture’s part-published technical literature and the under-reported means by which it had emerged from an antiques shop a century earlier and was, after restoration, instantly attributed to Duccio by its owner. As with the Salvator Mundi, there is no record of such a work having been produced by Duccio and no attempt has been made either to demonstrate that the Met picture was an original prototype for the many other versions of the type or to acknowledge the many historic variants themselves. Instead, five modern forgeries of the Berenson-upgraded Duccio are cited by Christiansen on grounds that they “testify to its prestige.”

THE MET DUCCIO CONTROVERSY LITERATURE:

The case for the Metropolitan Duccio has been put principally by Keith Christiansen in: the Fall 2005 Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (“Recent acquisitions”, p. 15 – “among the most important single acquisitions of the last two decades”); an October 2007 Apollo article, “The Metropolitan’s Duccio” – which was described as “the first full account”; the Summer 2008 Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin – “Duccio and the Origins of Western Painting”; also in 2008, a special Met re-printed publication, Duccio and the Origins of Western Paintings.

The case against was put by Professor James Beck in the last chapter of his 2006 book From Duccio to Raphael – Connoisseurship in Crisis, and by Michael Daley who, after corresponding with Christiansen over the attribution, published three articles in the Jackdaw magazine between November 2008 and March 2009: “GOOD BUY DUCCIO?”; “BUYER BEWARE”; “TOXIC ATTRIBUTIONS?”

FURTHER SALVATOR MUNDI AND MET DUCCIO CONNECTIONS: MARKETING THE ATTRIBUTIONS

As with the Salvator Mundi, Christie’s marketed the painting as a “Last Chance to Buy a Duccio”. Christiansen is listed by Christie’s as one of the Salvator Mundi’s supporters, as also is the Met’s chief picture restorer, Michael Gallagher, and as was Christiansen’s predecessor as paintings’ chairman, the late Everett Fahy.

When purchased, the Met Duccio had never been technically analysed. This long out-of-sight work was only subjected to technical analysis by the Met after acquisition and after challenges to its authenticity had been made by Beck and other scholars. As with the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi, the subsequent technical examination reports were not published or made available to independent scholars.

GUSH, ACQUISITIONS, SUSCEPTIBLE VIEWERS, SYCOPHANCY AND ABSENCES OF “STYLE CRITICISM”

Like Robert Simon on the Salvator Mundi, Keith Christiansen is a life-long devotee of the artist in question. His accounts of the Met Duccio have inclined towards the rhapsodic while eschewing direct engagement with style criticism. He recalls being struck on his first (2004) encounter with the Duccio at Christie’s, London, that “Like a poem or a piece of music, a great work of art – even a very small one – it has the power to cast a spell over susceptible viewers, to draw them into the world of its creator. For a few moments we were silent, each of us registering our impressions… Ever since, almost forty years ago, I first stood before the Maestà in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Siena, I have been haunted by Duccio’s singular gift for suggesting an ineffable, sacred presence in his depictions of the Virgin and Child, and it is this quality that first struck me – except that in this small picture there is an intimacy in the relation of mother to child that is quite different from what one finds in the artist’s public altarpieces, and the face of the Virgin is touched by a haunting melancholy even more poignant than I remembered from his larger public paintings…I knew the picture from old black and white photographs in books on Sienese painting and the two principle monographs on Duccio and his followers…There are few works of art I longed to see more than this small but astonishing picture…[which] would have been at the top of anyone’s wish list for acquisition…”

With big acquisitions museums take hyperbole and heroising gush to be in institutional order. The Met Duccio was by far the museum’s costliest ever and for a while it sparked an ecstatically uncritical hysteria. A New York restorer/dealer, Marco Grassi, for example, likened the picture’s emergence to the discovery of a manuscript score for a Mozart quartet. The world had earlier missed the chance to see it, he wrote (New Criterion, February 2005), because it was “on its way to London to be offered for sale, privately, through Christie’s.” But then, the happiest of endings:

“The Stoclet Duccio – we can now proudly call it ‘the Metropolitan Duccio’ – is an astonishing achievement…the artist places the Virgin at a slight angle to the viewer, behind a fictive parapet. She gazes away from the Child into the distance while He playfully grasps at Her veil. One must appreciate that every aspect of this composition represents a departure from pre-existing convention. With these subtle changes, Duccio consciously developed an image of sublime tenderness and poignant humanity, almost an echo of the spiritual renewal that St. Francis of Assissi had wrought only a few decades earlier…If, adding ‘strength to strength’ is a judicious policy in building collections, then, with the addition of the Duccio, its rewards will be particularly bountiful for the Metropolitan…And so, the Metropolitan’s recent arrival now rules supreme in this exalted company, and surely this could not have happened were it not for the outstanding quality of the museum’s curatorial resources. Chief Curator Everett Fahy and Associate Curator Keith Christiansen of the Department of European Paintings, in addition to Laurence Kanter, Curator of the Lehman Collection, constitute, together, a particularly prestigious concentration of scholarly expertise in the field in earlier Italian painting. No other museum can boast of a more distinguished team. One suspects that they, more forcefully and convincingly than anyone, made the case for the Metropolitan’s prodigious expenditure, and their advocacy merits our gratitude and applause…”

The celebration of “every aspect a departure” within an oeuvre is an inherently problematic and art-critically dangerous intoxication.

HOW A DREAM WISH MATERIALISED

Above, Fig. 8: Left, the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philippe de Montebello contemplating the museum’s Duccio Madonna and Child (after its acquisition); centre, a fragment of an infra-red image of the painting, as published in Apollo in 2007; right, an x-ray of the framed Metropolitan Duccio panel, also as published in Apollo and showing the modern wire nails that no one had noticed or acknowledged.

Christiansen described how the Duccio picture was drawn to his attention in Danny Danziger’s (endlessly fascinating) 2007 Museum – Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

“Nicholas Hall of Christie’s, with whom I have been friends for many years, phoned me up and said ‘I would like you to have lunch with me; there is something I’d like to show you.’ During the meal he slipped me a transparency, and I looked at it. It was a painting that had not been seen by any of the major Duccio specialists for fifty years…”

What could possibly go wrong? Nothing, Christiansen clearly thought: “…it had been in the Stoclet family and out of circulation. ‘Fantastic, how about the price? I asked. He told me. OK, I said, ‘I will deal with that later.’ And then we finished lunch.” Note, re frequently disparaging art world dismissals of photo-testimony, first, a curator had committed to the cause of a work he had never seen on sight of a single photograph; second, the Met’s director, Philippe de Montebello, would also become hooked on the painting through that photograph; third, that for over half a century, professionally-speaking, the picture’s Berenson-made attribution had been sustained on photo-testimony alone. Christiansen would later put it like this: “In 1949, [the then owner of the Duccio, the financier Adolfe] Stoclet and his wife died within a short time of each other. The collection was divided among their children, but access to it was increasingly difficult and there was even uncertainty as to whether the Duccio had been sold. The result was that a generation of scholars had to formulate their opinions on the basis of photographs, of which, fortunately, extremely good ones had long been available.”

THE CIRCUMSTANCES CONCERNING THE WITHDRAWAL FROM THE 2003 SIENA EXHIBITION

In Calvin Tomkins’ 11 July 2005 New Yorker article “The Missing Madonna”, it is said that the Met’s then head of European paintings, the late Everett Fahy, visited the Stoclets’ house in Brussels in 2002 to negotiate with of one the relatives for the Duccio’s loan (later rescinded) to the 2003 exhibition in Siena. Fahy may possibly have been the first scholar to see the painting in over fifty years. Tomkins reports Fahy saying that the picture “still hung then where it had always had, in Adolphe Stoclet’s private studio”. Christiansen later reported (Apollo 2007) that “Stoclet did not hang his gold ground pictures in this modern [Josef Hoffmann-designed house] setting but kept them in a large cupboard, taking them out, one by one, on Sunday afternoons or on the occasion of a visit of a guest such as Berenson.” Kenneth Clark had been the source of the cupboard storage claim. Fahy noted, “Everything the Stoclets collected was something you could put in your hand, small and precious”. Small, but not always precious. As Frances Vieta established (and Beck acknowledged in his 2006 connoisseurship book), Stoclet had owned two little Duccios, one of which proved to be a modern forgery in 1989. It, too, had been attributed to Duccio by Berenson’s protégé, Frederick Mason Perkins, who, along with Berenson’s wife, Mary Logan, had also upgraded the Met Duccio Madonna and Child, and two hugely expensive sculptures bought by Helen Frick that were also subsequently exposed as modern forgeries. Berenson himself had been taken in by half a dozen or so modern forgeries. The Cleveland Museum had been taken, too, but recovered when it identified modern wire nails and paints in a “Sano di Pietro” and declared it a fake. Before the Met picture had been first upgraded to Duccio by its owner, some had thought it a Sano di Pietro. The Cleveland Museum downgraded another Sano di Pietro to a school work when it – like the Met picture – was found to contain azurite not ultramarine. “With attributions”, Fahy held, “it’s not the number of people who agree with you, it’s the quality of their judgments.” The Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi had, reportedly, been unsuccessfully offered to Christie’s in 2005.

The Met picture, having narrowly missed a public viewing in the 2003 Siena exhibition for Duccio and his followers, suffered further non-visibility when Christie’s put the newly-emerged work into a private sale among just three major museums: the dollar-rich Getty Museum, which had balked at the asking price; the Louvre, which was said to be working on getting the money for the (then and still not-disclosed) asking price; and the Metropolitan Museum. Under this private sale arrangement it is possible that barely more than a dozen experts had seen the painting before it was sold to the Met and thereafter was trumpeted as an unquestionably autograph seminal and revolutionary work in the history of Western painting – and all this, as mentioned, ahead of a technical examination. The avoidance of public scrutiny during the sale seems to have occurred by design, not accident. Calvin Tomkins, whose New Yorker disclosures have not, so far as we know, been challenged, added:

“Although the ‘Madonna and Child’ was well-known in art-historical circles as the only one of Duccio’s dozen or so surviving paintings to remain in private hands, its whereabouts had been uncertain since the death, in 1949, of its last registered owner, the Belgian collector Adolphe Stoclet. In fact the picture never left the Stoclet House in Brussels. Stoclet and his wife… had willed the house to their son, Jacques, whose widow held onto it until her death in 2001. Soon after that, her heirs, (four daughters) who are very high on anonymity, agreed to lend it to an important exhibition in Siena, Duccio and his school…a few weeks before the opening in 2003, the painting was withdrawn. This coincided with rumours of an impending sale, which turned out to be true.

“Although everyone involved in the transaction is bound by omertà, it is known that both Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the principal auction houses, engaged in lengthy and fiercely competitive negotiations with the heirs, and Christie’s eventually won the prize. ‘The family was very keen that the painting go to a public museum or institution,’ according to Nicholas Hall, international director of Christie’s Old Masters department. This was one reason that the family decided upon a private ‘treaty’ sale, in which the auction house and the seller determine the price and then offer the work to selected potential buyers, rather than letting it take its chances at public auction; another reason was that a private sale is more private. ‘We got it by putting a significantly higher valuation on the painting than anyone else – by multiples – based on its being the last Duccio in private hands and its being so impeccably preserved,’ Hall told me. Hall himself never met the sellers. ‘The contract document must have been four inches thick, and it was the most rigidly controlled transaction I’ve ever been involved in,’ he said…”

CHRISTIE’S LAVISH PRESENTATION LITERATURE

Tomkins reported that, in addition to the transparency, Nicholas Hall had given Christiansen the “lavish presentation booklet that Christie’s had prepared for prospective buyers”. On whose imprimatur or on what scholarly authority had that booklet been prepared? How many people got to see it? When Christie’s auctioned the Salvator Mundi, the publicly-disseminated provenance was frankly acknowledged to have derived from the National Gallery’s 2011 catalogue entry; the restorer’s 2012 report; and, through their declared joint indebtedness, to the (still today) unpublished researches of one of the original 2005-2012 consortium of dealer/owners.

A COURTIER FLATTERS?

When Christiansen left his lunch with his old friend at Christies, he wondered what to do next about the tiny work he considered “probably the most important early Italian picture that could ever come on the market”. Should he call his director who was on vacation in Canada? He decided to wait: “and then I went into his office and said, ‘I am duty bound to show you this,’ and then I showed him the transparency. I casually said to him, ‘You know, Philippe, you deserve this picture. Tom Hoving had his [1970 $5.5 million Velazquez] Juan de Pareja, Rorimer had his Rembrandt [“Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer” for $2.3 million in 1961]; I don’t see why you shouldn’t have this towards the end of your career’.”

Christiansen continued (to Danziger): “My director fortunately is a person who loves old master paintings, who grew up with old master paintings and worked as a curator in this department and does not need to be told much. He was completely riveted by it. He asked me the price while he kept looking at it, and then he said, ‘I don’t see how we can get it…’ But that, I imagine, was also when the wheels began to turn in his head, because when I left, I thought there was a real possibility.” In the heady post-acquisition days of November 2004 Christiansen recalled to Carol Vogel in the New York Times that when the director was first shown the photograph “it took him about 30 seconds to say ‘We really have to have this’”.

At the same time, Tomkins had made clear why de Montebello might have gagged on the price. The Getty Museum (which has been bitten by fakes) had already turned it down: “reportedly, because of the price. This struck Christiansen as ironic because the price was so clearly predicated on the fifty-five million dollars that the Getty had agreed to pay, two years earlier, for Raphael’s small, perfectly preserved Madonna of the Pinks.” That little Raphael in the mint of condition had, like the even littler Met Duccio, lost its original back when, for some reason it was polished by its artist/restorer/dealer/smuggler owners. When the cradle was removed from the back of the by-then Met Duccio, it was found to have been scraped down to the bare wood, on which was written an ascription to…a member of Duccio’s school. Like the Salvator Mundi, the little Raphael was one of many versions of the subject – there are over fifty-five Madonna of the Pinks. James Beck remarked in his 2006 connoisseurship book: “I find it appropriate to claim, given the situation as has already been sketched, there is no chance whatever that the Northumberland painting is an original Raphael.” But for sure, within a couple of weeks of seeing the photograph, de Montebello, Christiansen and the Met’s chief restorer, Dorothy Mahon, flew to London to see the Madonna and Child armed with a magnifier and a UVF lamp to spot retouches.

BUY FIRST LOOK AFTERWARDS

The next morning, after a couple of hours of inspection at Christie’s in London with Christiansen and Mahon, de Montebello made a quick and high offer (without Board authorisation). It was immediately accepted by Christie’s but under the terms of this “private treaty sale” the picture could not be removed from Christie’s to undergo examinations at the Met and be presented to the Board’s Acquisitions Committee for appraisal and possible approval, as was customary. This was because, as Christiansen put it, “the picture wasn’t leaving Christie’s until the whole deal was finished”. Why so – and why accepted by the Met when such a huge sum was at stake? Had this condition been stipulated by owners who seemingly had developed cold feet about the picture being seen for the first time in over half a century in the context of a show on Duccio and his followers?

In his 1993 memoir Making the Mummies Dance Thomas Hoving recalled that when he went to Christie’s in London in 1970 (with the then head of restoration, Hubert von Sonnenberg, Everett Fahy, and a Board member, Ted Rousseau), the chairman of the auction house, Sir Peter Chance – “the very symbol of upper-class culture neatly folded around commerce” – explained “The condition’s perfect…the picture will not be cleaned up for the sale. Lord Radnor forbids it. He is also against anyone…examining it…scientifically. But no matter, we all matriculated into connoisseurs without all these fashionable instruments, if I may say so, Dr. von Sonnenberg.” (Hoving was bemused when Sir Peter put the price at “approaching the two million guinea mark” – a guinea being a pound, plus a shilling: “While Sotheby’s always conducted their sales in pounds, Christie’s favoured the more pretentious guinea.” In those days the joke was that at Christie’s gentlemen pretended to be salesmen while at Sotheby’s salesmen pretended to be gentlemen. In today’s globalised ownership-fluxing art world it might prove impossible to slide a cigarette paper between them.)

That Velazquez painting truly was one of the greatest portraits ever to come to market – and, in some part it was so because it had probably not been touched in a century and a half. When the Met staffers revisited the next day, von Sonnenberg held the picture against the window when the guard left the room and discovered that it had never been lined – hence the extraordinary vigour and sparkle of the brush work. As soon as Hoving and von Sonnenberg took possession it was sent secretly to Wildenstein’s – not to the Met itself – and there it went straight under the conservation chemical cosh on a claim of dirty varnish-removal but, in reality, in conformity with the museum’s imperious proprietary and aesthetic imperatives. (See “Discovered Predictions: Secrecy and Unaccountability at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York” and “Why is the Metropolitan Museum of Art afraid of public disclosures on its picture restorers’ cleaning materials?”) Even before it might become “The Metropolitan Velazquez” the portrait became a Met-treated painting and no one else at the museum, let alone its paying public, ever got to see the great masterpiece in its unadulterated state. To his credit Rorimer had earlier confessed (privately) to Alexander Eliot that the Met’s restorers had ruined its Rembrandts – and those poor paintings were not alone:

Above, Figs. 9 and 10: Details of the Met’s Goya portrait of the young Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga who died before he was eight years old. As seen before cleaning (left) and after cleaning (right).

In July 2005 Philippe de Montebello explained to Calvin Tomkins (New Yorker): “It’s the single most important purchase during my twenty-eight years as director – It’s my ‘Juan de Pareja’, it’s my ‘Aristotle.’” De Montebello later explained in the Summer 2008 Met Bulletin that he had moved so fast on an unexamined work because he felt authorised by:

“the assurance that comes from the trust I have learned to place in the curators and conservators of this great institution…As I held the picture in my hands, enraptured by its wonderful quality…I was treated all the while to Keith’s impassioned scholarship…it was particularly Keith’s precise and learned assessment of the picture that allowed me to consider the acquisition an imperative.”

(For a fuller account of de Montebello’s decision to buy, see CODA below.)

Immediately after spending nearly $50million on the unexamined Duccio at Christie’s in London, Christiansen, de Montebello and Mahon went to see the National Gallery’s Duccio triptych The Virgin and Child with Saints. Christiansen recalled (as reported in Danziger, 2007): “After about two hours at Christie’s we all walked down to the National Gallery where they have a very rare and beautiful Duccio triptych, which is simply marvellous – a touchstone of Duccio’s work – and we all felt that ‘ours’ was every bit as fine and in certain respects, more intimate and direct.” The following year, in a foreword to the 2008 Summer Met. Bulletin Christiansen elaborated:

“…we decided to walk the few blocks to the National Gallery, which owns a portable triptych by Duccio that has long been a cornerstone of its superb collection of early Italian paintings. The triptych is a work of extraordinary beauty and impeccable craftsmanship. Duccio struck a slightly different key than in the picture we had been examining, placing greater emphasis on the regal bearing of the Virgin. The motif of the Child playing with his mother’s veil is further developed, so that Christ unfurls a rich cascade of folds. But these enhancements came at the expense of the simple dignity and touching humanity of the small panel we had seen at Christie’s. In short, we felt that we had before us the opportunity of acquiring a painting that was on a par with one of Duccio’s most admired and best-preserved works, a painting that represented the artist at the very height of his powers.”

Michael Daley, Director, 6 February 2019

In Part II we consider why the Met team might have been advised to view the National Gallery Duccio triptych (and its dossiers) before visiting Christie’s and buying on the spot.

CODA:

Martin Gayford accompanied Philippe de Montebello on a walk around the Metropolitan Museum, as recorded in his 2014 book RENDEZ-VOUS WITH ART. In his chapter “The Case of the Duccio Madonna”, Gayford wrote: “We ended up sitting on a bench near perhaps Philippe’s most celebrated acquisition: a small exquisite Madonna and Child by the 14th century Sienese master, Duccio. It remains the most expensive single object ever purchased by the museum. So how, I asked, did he make the momentous decision to buy it?” De Montebello replied:

“When the Duccio was on offer, I had, as Director, to decide whether the picture was worth the huge sum I would have to raise to acquire it. To arrive at this decision, I had to wear several hats all at once: one of these was that of an informed art lover, the French ‘amateur’, and in that role focus on the seductive and lyrical lines, the harmony of the colours, the felicitous choreography of the hands and feet, the wonder of the human contact coincident with a certain respectful detachment in the depiction of figures, that are, after all divine. I also had to don my art historian’s hat and note that this Duccio was one of the very first pictures that mark the transition from medieval to Renaissance image making. It represented a key moment, a break from hieratic Byzantine models to a more gentle humanity.

“To be more specific, and it is more than just a recondite detail, look at how the parapet at the bottom connects the fictive, sacred world of the painting with temporal one of the viewer. This important observation – among others – was made by the curator Keith Christiansen as we were examining the picture in London. This led him to conclude that Duccio must have seen the Giotto frescoes in Assisi depicting the life of St. Fancis, where the illusionistic framework, including the parapet, relates the narrative scenes to the architecture of the church.

But Martin, you want to know the truth? All those considerations were largely irrelevant when the time came to decide whether to spend in the region of $45 million on the work. For this, I needed my museum director’s hat. The quantitative assessment had to be based on different criteria. First and foremost were the old-fashioned notions of quality, craft and skill. Did the work sing? Did it stop me in my tracks and did it then hold my attention? Was I reluctant to turn away from it too quickly?

“However, in my mind, the question of relative importance and quality was always pushing itself forward. That the work was beautiful and admirably well painted was not enough. It needed also to be very important, exceptional in every way, and extremely rare. If there had been three or four others similar to this one it would have meant that this picture should command a lower price.

“Then there was the question of what the price of this panel should be in comparison with one of the missing predella panels from Duccio’s Maestà in Siena were it to come up for sale. This is because the Madonna was and is a self-contained, independent and devotional image; it doesn’t belong to a larger work, the wholeness of it is part of its beauty and impact. The entire story is there in that one painting. That, too, added to its value.

“Then, as curators, we also needed to be concerned with the physicality of the work. After all, this object, which can be held in the hand, has weight and a certain thickness, and is vulnerable to the vagaries of time. Part of what drove me to buy the Duccio was the fact that for close to an hour I did hold it in my hands, that I did turn it around, looking at the back, sensing its weight, measuring its thickness. It had a corporeal reality that was almost, to use a paradox, mystical.

“No longer bound by image alone, as one would be when looking at a photograph – or even from a distance – I then focussed on the deep burn marks at the bottom of the frame, obviously made by votive candles, confirming that this was indeed a devotional picture. Just a few additional details resulted from close examination, not the least of which was that the picture was in impeccable condition, a rare thing when it comes to Trecento gold ground pictures, as most works have suffered greatly over time, mostly I’m afraid at the hands of restorers.

If you are a student of art, just think of the Jarves collection at Yale, where many of the pictures, early renaissance works, are now a near total ruin. We were also able to confirm that this was indeed not an incomplete work, a wing of a Diptych for example, there is a hole at the top indicating that the picture was hung from a hook.

“Then, of course, came the issues of the provenance or ownership history, an important preoccupation of art historians, for what it may reveal about the work. While it obviously began life as a devotional picture, made for an unknown patron, it eventually ended up in the hands of two major European collectors: Count Grigory Stroganoff at the end of the 19th century, and later the Belgian financier Adolphe Stoclet, in his Brussels house, which is a masterpiece of the Wiener Werkstätte. Also, the Duccio had been lent to the great Sienese exhibition of 1904 where it was highly praised; indeed one art historian Mary Logan (Bernard Berenson’s wife), deemed it the single finest work in the exhibition.

In addition, and not a minor factor in gauging the price, was the knowledge that there would most probably never be another Duccio for sale, as this was the only work of his known to exist outside of a museum. I also knew – which is why I made a quick and high offer – that the Louvre, the other major museum that did not have a Duccio, was after it as well and was going to make a real effort to buy it.

“So some competitive nerve was struck, and thus the need for pre-emptive action. While it may not have been conscious, I think that there is no question that a part of me wanted my institution to own that Duccio – over and above its importance to the proper representation of the development of Sienese art in the Trecento – simply to have it as yet another major work that would confirm the stature of the Met.

“At this point, the sum of all the above, which occurred in a rush of sensory and intellectual responses, led to an important psychological factor, which should not be underestimated in such cases: it is that of the curator/acquisitor experiencing what is a quasi-libidinal charge (you might even call it lust, albeit of a high order); the irrepressible need to win; to have taken the object of desire. You can’t get away from that. We are all human beings. Institutions are not just made of stone, glass and steel, they are run by people. It is absurd to try to maintain and project total objectivity.

“As a result of all these considerations, these thoughts, observations, calculations and feelings, as well as the confidence I gained from learned colleagues, the Met boasts this masterpiece of Trecento painting, while the Louvre, with its outstanding collection of Italian paintings, is still, and may forever be, lacking a Duccio. This actually saddens me, and I hope that a fine Duccio does turn up someday, from somewhere, and they can get it.”


Two troubled Leonardos

Two supposed Leonardos are now in difficulties. The Salvator Mundi, sold for half a billion dollars just over a year ago, hasn’t been seen since. In France, the Saint Sebastian drawing saved for the nation was not bought and has now been put back on the international market.

In the Guardian today (“An £18m saint…but is Sebastian drawing really by Leonardo?”) Dalya Alberge reports that the Leonardo scholar Martin Landrus believes the recently discovered and attributed ink drawing of a Saint Sebastian that is being offered by the Tajan auction house is not entirely – or, rather, is mostly not by Leonardo. Dr. Landrus was struck by poor ink drawing “nervously traced” over “much lighter lines that may have been autograph”. Possibly so, but ink lines studiously executed over faint guidelines made in erasable materials like chalk, charcoal or pencil in what would appear to be a quickly executed inventive study (as opposed to a drawing made from an already posed life model) are also encountered in pastiche inventions made by third parties.

The possibility should also be considered that this newly-emerged Saint Sebastian (above right) is a “portmanteau” drawing composed from elements borrowed or adapted from bona fide Leonardo drawings such as the Saint Sebastian ink study (above left) in the Hamburger Kuntshalle. In questions of attribution, differences or inconsistencies weigh more heavily than similarities and correspondances. Both drawings above are made of ink over fainter drawing. Both are of Saint Sebastian tied to a tree. However, notwithstanding the subject’s extreme plight, the Hamburg figure is a clear adaptation of a classical figure: the raised shoulder is placed above a stretched torso contour, while the lower shoulder is placed above a raised hip with the inescapable consequence that the torso’s contour is compressed and bunched (see the comparison with a real figure below). Throughout the Hamburg drawing the lines are spare, elegant and sometimes almost notational – see the way the centre line that begins under the rib cage shifts into alignment with the plane of the abdomen which is set in opposition to that of the chest. There is no such clarity and figural acuity in the newly-emerged drawing even though it contains considerably more drawn marks. Where the Hamburg drawing has three differently placed heads (two inked and one in chalk or pencil) all are individually compatible with the body, while in the Tajan auction house drawing the single head is snapped and twisted back in almost broken fashion and there are two radically conflicting poses in the torso below it. In one of these both arms are tied behind the tree in a manner that leaves the true left shoulder dropped below that of the right. In the alternative version the situation is reversed: the true left arm has been pulled up as if tied to a higher branch but this dramatic change of design and anatomical orientation carries no consequences for the rest of the figure: the abdomen remains untidily anatomically bunched. The true left breast remains dropped below that of the right, even though the true left shoulder has been rotated both upwards and backwards. It is hard to believe that so great a draughtsman as Leonardo could have confined such a radical shift of positioning to a single discrete part of a figure. As well as anyone Leonardo understood the manner in which bodies combine “architectural” structures with fluidity, mobility and grace. By contrast, it is easy to imagine how someone wishing simply to compose a study in the manner and style of a Leonardo sketch/design might commit such solecisms.

(For discussion of the rising tide of discovered works by great old masters, see our 15 December 2016 post “Leonardo and the Growing Sleeper Crisis”.)

Michael Daley, 17 November 2018


The pear-shaped Salvator Mundi

Things have gone very badly pear-shaped for the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi. It took thirteen years to discover from whom and where the now much-restored painting had been bought in 2005. And it has now taken a full year for admission to emerge that the most expensive painting in the world dare not show its face; that this painting has been in hiding since sold at Christie’s, New York, on 15 November 2017 for $450 million. Further, key supporters of the picture are now falling out and moves may be afoot to condemn the restoration in order to protect the controversial Leonardo ascription.

Above, Fig. 1: the Salvator Mundi in 2008 when part-restored and about to be taken by one of the dealer-owners, Robert Simon (featured) to the National Gallery, London, for a confidential viewing by a select group of Leonardo experts.

Above, Fig. 2: The Salvator Mundi, as it appeared when sold at Christie’s, New York, on 15 November 2017.

THE SECOND SALVATOR MUNDI MYSTERY

The New York arts blogger Lee Rosenbaum (aka CultureGrrl) has performed great service by “Joining the many reporters who have tried to learn about the painting’s current status”. Rosenbaum lodged a pile of awkwardly direct inquiries; gained a remarkably frank and detailed response from the Salvator Mundi’s restorer, Dianne Dwyer Modestini; and drew a thunderous collection of non-disclosures from everyone else. A full year after the most expensive painting in the world was sold, no one will say where it has been/is or when, if ever, it might next be seen. (See “Leonardo Canards: Conservator Dianne Modestini Debunks Doubts Over the Elusive ‘Salvator Mundi’”.)

After the Salvator Mundi’s recent no-show at Abu Dhabi Louvre, concerns and rumours have grown exponentially. (See our “Two developments in the no-show Louvre Abu Dhabi Leonardo Salvator Mundi saga” and “How the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi became a Leonardo-from-nowhere”.)

AN ENDURING SUPPORTER

Throughout this protracted no-show, Professor Martin Kemp, the most high profile art historical advocate of the painting’s Leonardo attribution, has offered assurances. Immediately ahead of the November 2017 sale he made a promotional video for Christie’s, New York, that was specifically designed to combat our and other warnings, warnings that he now characterizes in his self-valedictory memoir Living with Leonardo as “misinformation appearing in the press”. The Times reported on 28 August: “‘looking at the whole science’ including the rock crystal sphere that Christ was holding and the depth of field convinced [Kemp, that] ‘with Leonardo you have this wonderful body of context, of extra evidence…it is rock solid, it is damaged but rock solid’.” Kemp frequently fuses appeals to rock solid scientific evidence with art critical hyperbole. For example, to the owner of the supposed Leonardo drawing “La Bella Principessa”, he said of a partial finger print:

“This is yet one more component of what is as consistent a body of evidence as I have ever seen. I will be happy to emphasize that we have something as close to an open and shut case as is ever likely with an attribution of a previously unknown work to a major master. As you know, I was hugely sceptical at first, as one needs to be in the Leonardo jungle, but now I do not have the slightest doubt that we are dealing with a work of great beauty and originality that contributes something special to Leonardo’s oeuvre. It deserves to be in the public domain.”

So far as we know, that supposed Leonardo drawing (which the National Gallery excluded from its 2011-12 Leonardo show) remains unsold in one of Yves Bouvier’s freeports. Kemp recently assured the world that wonderful things are in train for the Salvator Mundi next year. Against his bullishness, the picture’s long-serving restorer, Dianne Dwyer Modestini, has now disclosed to Rosenbaum: “I have no idea about the future of the painting. No one does. Not the French, not Martin Kemp. I assume the people from Abu Dhabi know something, but they are not talking to anyone, not even the French.”

Rosenbaum had tried the Louvre, Paris:

“I thought the venerable French museum would at least be able to answer my question regarding its own exhibition plans, but Sophie Grange of the Louvre’s press office said only this: ‘It is too early, one year ahead, to communicate on the list of the loans for the Louvre exhibition. Concerning Louvre Abu Dhabi, they communicate themselves about their own collection.’ Grange advised me to get in touch with Faisal Al Dhahri at Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism—one of the three officials whom I’d already attempted to contact several times, to no avail. I think this is called: ‘Getting the Run-Around.’”

THE GOOD THINGS TO COME

Kemp may have had in mind the forthcoming 2019 Louvre exhibition to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death but no one at the Paris Louvre will now confirm that the Abu Dhabi Louvre Salvator Mundi will be included. Is Paris about to spurn Abu Dhabi’s $450 million acquisition? Failure to include the work next year would risk humiliating the United Arab Emirates (who paid something like Euros 400 million for the right to exploit the Louvre title – roughly the cost of one big yacht) when French foreign policy dictates every deployment of soft cultural power to gain influence in that traditionally Anglophile quarter.

…AND THE UNKOWN UNKNOWNS

Why are so many players so silent on this painting? Why is the art world being kept in this state of darkening paralysis? Some background might help explain the jitters. The art market greatly fears the pending trial in New York between Sotheby’s and the Russian collector Dmitry Rybolovlev who seeks $380 million from the auction house for an alleged conspiracy to defraud him through his own adviser, Yves Bouvier. In 2013 Sotheby’s brokered a private sale of the Salvator Mundi for $80 million to Bouvier, the owner of a string of “tax-efficient” freeports – his Geneva facility alone reputedly holds $100 billion of art. The consortium of vendors claimed that a non-disclosure agreement made with Sotheby’s preventing them from disclosing the picture’s origins. Bouvier immediately sold the painting on (“flipped” in art trade parlance) to Rybolovlev for $127.5 million – an undisclosed mark-up of $47.5 million, with Sotheby’s, reportedly, pocketing $3 million as an agent’s fee. The Swiss police authorities recently detained Rybolovlev for questioning due to reported allegations of corruption and ‘influence peddling.’ Rybolovlev is allegedly tied to Philippe Narmino, the former justice minister in Monaco, who retired last year after he was accused of working under the influence of the Russian collector in his fraud case against Bouvier…” Earlier, Rybolovlev had filed a complaint against Bouvier in Monaco. The latter was arrested on charges of fraud and money laundering and released on $10 million bail. Bouvier is now reported to be in Singapore. With Rybolovlev furious at being over-charged in 2013, the consortium of vendors who sold indirectly to him for $80 million are thought to remain aggrieved at being short-changed by $47.5 million on the picture’s value and having been pre-emptively blocked from action by a Sotheby’s law suit. Sotheby’s are reportedly seeking assistance from Christie’s in a separate legal fight with a dealer over the sale of a demonstrably and now scientifically-confirmed fake Frans Hals…

THE ART AND ATTRIBUTION STAKES

Unsavory art market churning must not swamp the serious art and attribution concerns at stake with this Salvator Mundi. Modestini’s reported statement to Rosenbaum merits close reading. Her first concerns are the painting’s physical condition, well-being and whereabouts:

“It’s supposed to have been in Switzerland, but I’m not quite convinced, because a conservator who was asked to make a condition report more than a month ago still hadn’t seen it as of last Monday [22 Oct. 2018]. I’m rather worried because although it was framed in a microclimate, it is not a long-term solution. I’m pretty sure it left Christie’s in mid-May. Then it disappeared. It never went to Abu Dhabi… However, the panel is badly damaged and exceptionally reactive to changes in RH [relative humidity]. It needs to be at not less than 45% RH, even though it has some protection because it’s in a microclimate created by sealing it up in an envelope of Marvelseal —a standard technique.”

Modestini’s second concern is professional and personal:

“The Abu Dhabi announcement [that it had postponed display of the painting] had nothing to do with the nonsense about its being 85% by Dianne Modestini and the rest by [Bernardino] Luini. [The Luini theory, advanced by Leonardo scholar Matthew Landrus, was reported by Dalya Alberge in the Guardian and picked up by Smithsonian Magazine, among others.]”

Above, Fig. 3: Left, the Salvator Mundi as restored in 2008; right, a National Gallery painting attributed to Bernardino Luini.

A GREAT FALL-OUT?

It is understandable that Modestini should be sensitive and defensive – no professionally conscientious person enjoys criticism. Following our demonstrations of the extent to which the painting changed appearances at her hand (albeit on the advice of and with support from a high-ranking group of art historical experts) between 2005 and 2017, there are now signs that art historical advocates of the Salvator Mundi may be preparing to disavow the successive restorations to protect the credibility of their attribution. Consider Jonathan Jones’ recent (15 October) account in the Guardian“The Da Vinci mystery: why is his $450m masterpiece really being kept under wraps?”

Jones, who was the embedded journalist-of-choice within the National Gallery’s conservation department when its version of the Virgin of the Rocks was being restored, bluntly contends that it might have been better if the Salvator Mundi had not been restored at all:

“Surely it would have been more true to the greatest artist who ever lived to let his timeworn masterpiece speak to us directly. Is the Louvre Abu Dhabi taking a closer look? I think it should.”

In this maneuvre, Jones seems to draw support from Martin Kemp, who, along with a few other select experts, had been invited by the National Gallery’s incoming director, Nicholas Penny, to the confidential 2008 viewing of the Salvator Mundi when part repainted, as at Fig. 1:

“When the painting was cleaned, it turned out that Christ had two right thumbs… ‘Both thumbs,’ says Kemp of the raw state, ‘are rather better than the one painted by Dianne.’”

Kemp will likely have known that Modestini had painted out the restoration-exposed second thumb on the advice of Luke Syson, the curator of the National Gallery’s 2011-12 Leonardo exhibition in which Kemp had been set to have some curatorial input until, as he puts it: “it was later decided that all the curation should be conducted in-house”. Modestini acknowledged Syson’s guidance in her (2014) published account of her restorations preceding the painting’s appearance in the National Gallery’s 2011-12 Leonardo exhibition. Syson, who went to the Metropolitan Musem, New York, has recently been appointed director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. It is possible that had Kemp been co-curator, the National Gallery Leonardo show would have included a second Kemp-supported Leonardo upgrade, the “La Bella Principessa” drawing. In any event, an emboldened Jones has now challenged Robert Simon, one of the original consortium of dealer-owners: “Why didn’t he leave the painting in its raw yet beautiful state after it was stripped down? Wasn’t that an incredible object in itself?” Simon stood firm:

“We considered leaving it, considered more limited restoration, as well as a more extensive one…In the end we decided to do what we felt was best for the picture…we felt that bringing it back to life as much as possible was the way to go.”

Jones reports Simon’s annoyance with criticisms of the restoration – he absolutely rejects the possibility of any artistic “falsehood” being introduced. “I found [Thomas Campbell’s] comments both ill-informed and offensive. ‘Inpainting’ is the right way to describe what has happened here – retouching restricted to areas of loss. In the restoration no original paint was covered.”

(When the picture was sold in November 2017 Thomas Campbell, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum, presciently tweeted that he hoped the anonymous buyer who had just paid $450m “understands conservation issues” and had “read the small print”.)

WHAT WAS DONE IN THE SALVATOR MUNDI RESTORATIONS

The claim never to have over-painted is universally asserted by restorers. While no code of restoration “ethics” sanctions painting over surviving original paint, the profession’s philosophical pieties constantly conflict with observable visual facts. We have previously shown that if you juxtapose halves of the two Salvator Mundi faces, as seen in 2011-12 at the National Gallery and at Christie’s in November 2017 (see Fig. 7 below), there is a mismatch: scarcely any passages of painting run across the halves. As the photo-records below testify, this version of the many Leonardesque Salvator Mundis has enjoyed two distinct identities in seven years and three in ten years. We discuss the unreported covert transition from the second to the third below.

DISPARAGING PHOTO-TESTIMONY

Modestini and Kemp are united on one point: both hold that restorers cannot be held to account by photo-comparisons of the alterations they make to works of art. The claim is untenable – how else might appraisals of restorations be made given that pre-restoration appearances are consumed in restorations? Both the restorer and the art historian further contend that photographs are inherently unreliable because susceptible to malicious manipulation. Modestini offers this variation on that ancient restoration slur:

“I have refrained from commenting on some of the recent articles about the restoration. However, in light of the fact that no one can now see the actual painting, various digital images are standing in for the original, all of which can be manipulated any way one wants and are a sort of falsification of the original.”

That is unworthy. First, why would anyone maliciously tamper with images to make false claims of non-existent injuries that could easily be exposed by the photographic record? How long did it take to expose the Trumpian White House’s tampering with film footage of a journalist’s attempt to retain a microphone? Second, does Modestini mean to imply that the clear photographically recorded differences between the painting’s 2011 and 2017 states are the combined result of malicious critics and auction house promotional manipulations? Modestini’s citation of the second plank of the traditional Restorers’ Defence – that all photographs of paintings are inherently untrustworthy and misleading – is scarcely more credible:

“It is very difficult to photograph any painting accurately, this one especially, because of the many thin layers, subtlety of skin tones, delicacy of transitions etc. Most paintings have three dimensions, not two. That affects our perception of them. I hardly recognize the image that now passes for the ‘Salvator Mundi.’ The photo lamps or strobes (in the case of the Christie’s images) produce a simulacrum of the actual painting, more vivid, sharper, snazzier, if you will, than the actual battered image that I restored as carefully as I could, trying not to invent anything. These flashy images cannot include the nuances and problems created by the three dimensionality of the corrugated surface and are being compared with an only slightly more accurate scan of a good 8×10 transparency of the cleaned state, which was more honest.”

That last image (here at Figs. 5-10) has been published with a drum roll by Jones in the Guardian as if a proof of Leonardo’s hand when it had been published by Modestini in 2014 (albeit small and in printed not online form). Although a considerable improvement on earlier versions (as published by us) it does not tell a different story. On the Jones premise, will Modestini now produce equally high-resolution photographs taken before and after each of her various interventions (2005-08; 2008-11; post 2012 and pre-2017)? If she insists that all photographs are inherently untrustworthy and easily falsifiable, will she explain why so many photographs of paintings are made and published and why they never carry visual health warnings? Are all photographs previously made for restorers’ own restoration reports now deemed to be unreliable testimony?

THE ART CRITICAL UNDERPINNING OF THE SALVATOR MUNDI’S CHANGING APPEARANCES

We incorporate below the Guardian’s newly released high definition photograph of the painting when cleaned but not-yet repainted within the public record of Modestini’s restorations and then consider Kemp’s scientific/art theoretical input into the restoration in the light of certain accounts in his new memoir, Living with Leonardo – Fifty Years of Sanity and Insanity in the Art World and Beyond. But first, the changes to the painting:

Above, Fig. 4: Left, the photograph of the Salvator Mundi painting when in the Cook collection and judged to be a work of Bernardino Luini; right, the former Kuntz family and then Basil Clovis Hendry Sr. estate painting, as in the 2005 St. Charles Gallery catalogue.

Above, Fig. 5: Left, a screen grab of the Salvator Mundi as when taken, still sticky from a previous restoration in 2005 to Dianne Modestini’s New York studio; right as in 2007 in the newly released high-resolution photograph following cleaning and repairs to the panel but before any retouching, infilling or repainting. Will Modestini publish a photograph of the painting as presented to her in 2005?

Above, Fig. 6: Left, the Salvator Mundi as in 2006/7 (in high-resolution) after cleaning; right, as in 2011 as exhibited as a Leonardo at the National Gallery, London, and after much repainting – some of which was distressed and contained false, painted lines of cracking in emulation of aged paint cracks.

Above, Fig. 7: Left, the Salvator Mundi as in 2006/7 (in high-resolution) after cleaning; right, as in 2017 when sold at Christie’s, New York, after further covert restoration.

Above, Fig. 8: Left, the head of the Salvator Mundi as in 2006/7 (in high-resolution) after cleaning; right, the head in a split screen compilation showing the appearance in 2011 on the left and in 2017 on the right.

Above, Fig. 9: Top, a detail of the Salvator Mundi’s eyes as in 2006/7 after cleaning and before repainting (and as published by Modestini in 2014); above, left, the face, in 2011, and, right, as in 2017.

Above, Fig. 10: Top, a detail of the new high resolution photograph, as published online by the Guardian; centre, the corresponding detail as published by Modestini in 2014, the previously best detail of the cleaned and not-yet repainted eyes; above, eyes by Leonardo and Bronzino. The lower images are surely instructive here? The Salvator Mundi was hyped by Christie’s, New York, as an iconic thing – a “Male Mona Lisa”. Martin Kemp holds that it was painted by Leonardo after he had painted the Mona Lisa and that he had deliberately put the face “out of focus” so as create spiritual mysteriousness on the one hand and an illusion of spatial depth and recession in an emphatically flat (and heavily cropped composition) on the other. If we look at these images art critically we can safely make a number of factual, verifiable observations – and these are not “subjective”. First, although the high-resolution photograph is superior as a photograph to the lower resolution image, as published in a book, it does not tell a materially or artistically different story – in both we can see the extent of losses and the fact the treatment of the eyes is neither identical nor consistent. In particular we can see that the treatment of the heavy flattening upper eye lid on the right is sharply (and badly) drawn, while that on the left is softer and almost undoubtedly abraded. Modestini somehow equalized the effect of the eyes while leaving the implausible severity of drawing found in the lid of the eye on the right. Neither eye in this painting is remotely comparable with the Mona Lisa’s eyes where softness of effect has been achieved without loss of sculptural lucidity or anatomical veracity. These differences are ones of quality more than of style. The creases formed by the meeting of the soft flesh of the upper lids with the more taught flesh of the brow is more sharply drawn in the Bronzino but it is also drawn with greatly more acuity and finesse than the eye on the right of the Salvator Mundi. Much of the great benefit photography brings to art historical scholarship lies in the ease with which detailed style comparisons can be made. In an age of high quality and electronically transmissible photography, if you are going to claim Leonardo you really should take the opportunity to demonstrate Leonardo.

Above, Fig. 11: A succession showing the picture and two details, with the first each time, as in 2011 and, second, as in 2017. The question raised by Modestini is the extent to which the differences shown above are products of Christie’s own “more vivid, sharper, snazzier” images of the 2017 state or of her own repainting. It can safely be said that repainting must substantially account for the differences because changes have been made to the design of forms as can be seen here in the comparison of the details of the shoulder drapery. It would be helpful if all parties to the post 2005 “conservation treatments” would publish full accounts of them accompanied by the best available photo-records.

MARTIN KEMP’S THEORETICAL AND SCIENTIFIC INPUT

On the very day when the Salvator Mundi went on exhibition at the National Gallery (9 November 2011) Kemp published an article, “Art History: Sight and salvation” in Nature magazine. In it, he made a number of significant contentions/observations: 1) that although connoisseurship still has a role to play, it involves “subjective criteria that should long ago have been superseded as the key tool of attribution”; 2) that art historical evidence can be supplemented by “the scientific”, of which there are two kinds – technical examinations of pictures’ component material parts, and scientific evidence that is “particular to Leonardo”; 3) that the Salvator Mundi bears such witness in two regards: it “plays with depth-of-field problems. None of the contours is absolutely sharp, but the blessing hand and the tips of the fingers cradling the orb are discernibly clearer than the features of Christ’s face. The rapid lack of clarity in depth serves to give space to what would other-wise be a quite flat image.”

What is striking in the above series of comparisons is the extent to which Modestini has apparently added force and clarity to the hands and globe in the foreground. The globe, for example, has been emphatically darkened towards its circumference and lightened at its centre between 2011 and 2017. Modestini partially accounted for these changes in 2014: “The rock crystal orb, symbolizing the cosmos, was painted with practically nothing, thin glazes and scumbles which unfortunately have been abraded, especially along the top of the wood grain. Originally the illusion must have been magical since simply toning down the lighter areas with translucent watercolor glazes rendered it convincing.”

In Living with Leonardo Kemp discusses the two thumbs and, there, had praised Modestini’s “painstaking and diplomatic filling in of lost areas with readily soluble paint”. Kemp reports that after viewing the picture at the National Gallery in 2008 “Robert and I corresponded during the course of that summer and autumn.” There can be little doubt that differences between the painting’s appearance, when first taken to London (Fig. 1), and later in 2011 when exhibited in London (Fig. 2) are considerable. Even more dramatic are the differences between 2011 and 2017. The question, then, is under what or whose ambition or programme, were Modestini’s changes made? Was she and/or the owners in thrall to Kemp’s quasi-photographic depth-of-field thesis? We know from her own account that she made a number of artistic changes to the painting with a view to increasing spatial force:

“I repainted the large missing areas of in the upper parts of the painting with ivory black and a little cadmium red light, followed by a glaze of rich warm brown, then more black and vermilion. Between stages I distressed [how?] and then retouched the new paint to make it look antique. The new color freed the head, which had been trapped in the muddy background, so close in tone to the hair and made a different, altogether more powerful image.”

Note: these are only the changes that were made between 2007 and 2011. There has been no account of the subsequent restorations. If we look at the top of the split-image of the face at Fig. 8, we can see that the hair immediately to the right of the parting had become much darker by 2017 while the flesh tones in the forehead and nose had become lighter. No account of these changes has been published.

REFRACTIONS OR PENTIMENTI?

To return to Kemp’s 2011 Nature article, where he made this account:

“The other optical effect is unique to this painting, both in Leonardo’s work and in the Renaissance more generally. The orb is not the standard globe of the world. It is translucent and glistens internally with little points of light. These are not the spherical bubbles found in glass, but are the kind of cavity inclusions (small gaps) that appear in some specimens of rock crystal and calcite. Leonardo, we know, was considered an expert in such semi-precious materials. It seems that he observed the double refraction produced by calcite. The Heel of Christ’s hand exhibits two distinct contours, not in this case due to a change of mind. [Emphasis added.]

That could not be clearer, could it? In Kemp’s characteristically adroit fusion of the technical and the spiritual, the superseding of traditional subjective practices of connoisseurship by newer, more astute technically and scientifically-informed analysis might seem well demonstrated – but how are such formulations to be evaluated? Must scholars without scientific backgrounds simply defer to the supposed superiority of science-loaded art historical scholarship – if told, on cited geological authority, that a material is so and so and, therefore uniquely gives rise to such and such effects, (that is, if calcite, then be on the lookout for its double refractions) who might query or dissent? Seven years later, in Living with Leonardo, Kemp retells his story on the significance of the orb and its near magical optical properties as a concrete embodiment of Leonardo’s mind, but with a twist: “The most satisfying aspect of my own research concerned my hunch that the globe was made of rock crystal”; he had “toyed with the idea that the double image of the heel of Christ’s right hand might be the result of the double refraction characteristic of rock crystal; but the optics would not work. The apparent doubling is almost certainly another pentimento [i. e. change of mind in the design – emphasis added].”

Thus, without a blush, Kemp offers a new diametrically opposite rationale: with this orb Leonardo “was not making a ‘portrait’ of an actual sphere, nor was he following all its optical consequences to their logical conclusions.”

Without mention of Hollar’s testimony, a pragmatic explanation is offered for an intellectual flip: “the optics” were put to the test and it was found by due and diligent research that they “would not work”. By “would not work” Kemp suggests that his efforts with a real crystal orb to replicate the kind of refraction he had earlier claimed to recognise in the double image of the hand holding the orb had been unsuccessful. But might there not have been another reason for dropping the earlier refracted hand thesis? As mentioned, Kemp’s Nature article appeared on the day the National Gallery’s Leonardo exhibition opened, 9 November 2011. On 11 November, a correspondent asked in the Times why no optical deflections were evident in Christ’s globe. The next day the Time’s carried our letter (Fig. 12, below) pointing out that in an etched copy by Wenceslaus Hollar of the original but now lost Leonardo Salvator Mundi the drapery seen through the orb had been deflected.

For the National Gallery this was politically awkward: if Hollar had copied an optically sophisticated, characteristically Leonardesque, effect from a painting then attributed to Leonardo that was not present in the painting on exhibition as the original Leonardo from which Hollar had made his copy, this could only mean that Hollar’s copy had, in fact, been made from another painting. Worse, on a careful visual reading of the relationships between the etching and the Salvator Mundi painting in the exhibition, there were further grounds for drawing the same conclusion: Hollar’s Christ was stouter and heavily bearded; his face was long and it tapered inwards from the level of the eyes, it did not widen, chipmunk-like towards the jaw; the eyes looked slightly to our left, not directly at the viewer; a radiant halo-like light emitted from Christ’s head; the transparent orb had gathered light around its circumference – and not grown darker, as in the painting…

This problematic visual mismatch must have compounded political problems: the gallery’s decision to exhibit a proposed Leonardo of little provenance and no art historical or technical literature and that was in the hands of a group of dealers (and therefore, inevitably, on the market) was institutionally questionable and certainly controversial. It became the more so when at least four Leonardo scholars challenged the attribution of the painting. Kemp, at that point, was hoist on his own scientific petard. Where the gallery had claimed in its catalogue entry on the painting that “There could be no doubt that this is the picture that was copied by Hollar”, it was now evident that it could not have been – and without that claimed connection, the picture’s supposed provenance collapsed from one in which it had passed down to us first through the French royal family in Leonardo’s day and then to the English royal family in the 17th century… to one that only began in England in 1900 when it had emerged from no acknowledged source, with no history and only as a painting given to Luini. How would the gallery respond to this very public correspondence and challenge? How would Professor Kemp respond? The National Gallery made no reply to the letters in the Times perhaps judging silence to be a better defence than open art critical engagement. Professor Kemp, too, was silent in the public prints, so far as we know.

Above, Fig. 12: Two ArtWatch UK letters to the Times.

Seven years later, while the National Gallery remains silent, Kemp, in Living with Leonardo, now writes with patronising verve and confidence to a new position:

“We should remember that Leonardo was drawing on his knowledge of rock crystal to devise a large sphere [the former ‘orb’ or ‘globe’] for Christ to hold – he was not making a ‘portrait’ of an actual sphere, nor was he following all of its optical consequences to their logical conclusion. I have been asked on more than one occasion why the drapery behind the sphere is so little affected by what is, in effect, a large magnifying lens. The answer, in a word, is decorum; that is to say, pictorial good manners…Leonardo’s endowing of Christ with a rock crystal sphere was not just a case of optical and geological cleverness for the sake of it…”

Perhaps not, but then why not introduce into the discussion the visual/artistic fact that Hollar had copied a deflection of curved forms of drapery when seen through a curved transparent body symbolising the cosmos? Would a copyist have invented an optical distortion in a painting he believed to be an autograph Leonardo? In journalism, as supposedly in science, facts are held sacred and opinions somewhat less so. Are awkward facts expendable in science-rich art history? Properly considered, Hollar’s testimony is an important event in the history of scientific engagement in art – just as it had been in Holbein’s use of an optic to correct the anamorphosis in the foreground skull of The Ambassadors in the National Gallery – as a scholar had proposed in the 1970s and I had corroborated in the 1990s. How long will such testimony remain institutionally and professionally un-personned?

SOME FURTHER UNADDRESSED, PHOTOGRAPHICALLY RECORDED ARTISTIC FACTS:

Above, Fig. 13: Left, a section of drapery in the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi when exhibited at the National Gallery in 2011-12; right the Modestini-changed section of drapery when sold at Christie’s New York in 2017.

Above, Fig. 14: Left, Hollar’s 1650 engraved copy of a Salvator Mundi attributed to Leonardo that shows deflected folds of drapery within the transparent orb; right, the Abu Dhabi Louvre Salvator Mundi as seen at the National Gallery at the time of the above correspondence in the Times. The double edge of the hand holding the orb had been left in place on the then Kempian view that it demonstrated Leonardo’s sophisticated optical knowledge. Had that double image been judged a pentimento it would, like that encountered on the thumb of the raised true right hand, likely have been painted out by Modestini on the advice of the National Gallery curator, Luke Syson.

Above, Fig. 15: Changes made to the Salvator Mundi’s orb and adjacent draperies as seen respectively (from left to right) in 2008, 2011 and 2017.

Above, Fig. 16: Left, the 1650 Wenceslaus Hollar etched copy of a Salvator Mundi painting; right, the Abu Dhabi Louvre Salvator Mundi, as seen in 2017 with changed draperies. In the Hollar we can how the central, highlighted fold of drapery is deflected from its convex path into a concave formation as it runs through the centre of the orb and between the aligned double and single light reflections. We can see how the heel of the copied hand was smaller and deflected towards the circumference of the orb; right, in the Louvre Abu Dhabi painting (third state) we can see how Modestini had darkened the circumference of the orb and brightened the interior. It is simply inconceivable that as skilled a copyist as Hollar could have drawn his orb from this, now Louvre Abu Dhabi painting.

Above, Fig. 17: Top, two diagrams showing differences of design and modeling between the 1650 Hollar copy, left, and, right, the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi as sold in 2017. The three reflected highlights in the Hollar orb are aligned in accord with the picture’s top-left down light source which is evident throughout the painting that Hollar copied. The three unaligned white spots in the Louvre Abu Dhabi picture were attributed by Modestini to “reflections on the sphere to an outside source, but since many of the original glazes have perished, even when toned down, they float with context.” Above, a glass sphere owned by the author that shows the pushing of light towards the circumference, as copied by Hollar.

Above, Fig. 18: The author’s glass sphere. Where Martin Kemp failed to locate a double refraction in a small rock crystal orb, we demonstrated, as above, that when parallel straight lines (as here in the white gap between two photocopy diagrams) are viewed through a glass orb they are deflected into curves.

THE HOLLAR GLOBE’S BETTER FIT WITH THAT FOUND IN THE DE GANAY SALVATOR MUNDI<

In our previous post the painter Hikaru Hirata-Miyakawa showed through the three graphics below that in addition to all the above problems with the suggestion that the Hollar engraved copy had been made from the Louvre Abu Dhabi picture, the globe copied by Hollar bears a much closer relationship to the globe found in another Leonardesque painting, the so-called de Ganay Salvator Mundi, than to the globe seen in the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi.

Michael Daley, 12 November 2018


Lest we forget

Frances Moreton, Director of the War Memorials Trust, writes: “Our war memorials remind us not just of those who lost their lives but the consequences of conflict and the importance of preserving these memorials to ensure that future generations learn from the experiences and sacrifices of those we remember.”

6 November 2018


Hyping museum-restoration wrecks

Today museums seem as likely as not to be closed for “re-development”. Even small “time-capsule” artists or collectors home/museums, like Leighton’s, are fair game. Closures present loan opportunities and the National Gallery has snaffled some Courtauld Gallery Impressionist plums.

The hyped plum-of-plums in the National Gallery’s four star (- the Guardian gives five) Courtauld Impressionists from Manet to Cezanne blockbuster is the Courtauld Gallery’s Renoir, La Loge (as above). Today, bigging-up such restoration-damaged masterpieces seems to constitute museum world chic, as we discussed in March 2014 in “From Veronese to Turner, Celebrating Restoration-Wrecked Pictures”. At that date the most blatant hype was bestowed on a borrowed Turner seascape in which one of the picture’s two steamboats had been scrubbed away in the restoration wash, as seen below:

The above detailed comparison of Turner’s Rockets and Blue Lights (Close at Hand) to Warn Steamboats of Shoal Water shows (top) a 19th century photograph – by courtesy of Christie’s – and the painting (above) as flaunted in the National Maritime Museum’s 2013-14 Turner and the Sea exhibition. Sinking a boat and turning its belching black coal smoke into a waterspout might be thought as clinching a demonstration of restoration injury as could ever be encountered. However, that early photograph had been preceded by a large chromolithographic copy (see below) that had even better recorded Turner’s original second boat and distressed crew, and therefore gives a truer indication of the magnitude of artistic injury.

Some art critics alert to words might have noticed that the picture was described by Turner to contain “steamboats” – not a single boat – but, if so, none paid heed. Seemingly taking their collective lead from a Tate press release to an earlier Turner exhibition that had proclaimed this wreck-of-wrecks to be “One of the stars of the show”, it having “recently undergone major conservation”, the critics gushed in unison with their four and five-star reviews and the Maritime Museum was able to flood the world with posters and reviews (as below) celebrating this most-wrecked Turner seascape:

“…this show contains some of the most extraordinary passages of painting ever applied to canvas. Its centrepiece, the recently restored Rockets and Blue Lights… is an unbelievable vision of swirling blue, orange and white light thrusting through fog” [Daily Telegraph]; “Easily the most stunning picture in the show is Rockets and Blue Lights…The canvas has been given a restorative makeover…Turner’s brushwork is revealed in all its glory” [the Independent]; “Most splendid…is the dramatic and recently restored Rockets and Blue Lights, a picture so spectacular, that like the shadowy group of figures on the foreshore, you can only stare and wonder” [the Times].

We sometimes wonder.

That was then. Today the much hyped wreck-of-the-moment in the National Gallery/Courtauld Impressionist bonanza is none other than the latter’s own “iconic” Renoir, La Loge – as below:

We had examined this specimen in an August 2012 post: “Reviews: Taking Renoir, Sterling and Francine Clark to the Cleaners”.

In the comparison above we showed a detail (left) of the painting as seen as seen in 1921 in Georges Rivière’s Renoir et Ses Amis next to the painting (right) as in the Courtauld catalogue of 2008 at Fig. 5. The two reproductions were of very unequal quality but, even so, the permitted comparisons were alarming: both ears are now fully exposed, where before only one had been; the background had been darker; the eyebrows had been less symmetrical; the flower at the bosom had been more distinct, and so on…

In the comparison above, the reproductions were better matched. That on the left came from a plate in Anthea Callen’s 1978 book Renoir; that on the right from the Courtauld’s 2008 catalogue. Here, in the earlier state, we see firmer modelling in the jaw; stronger drawing and modelling in the mouth; a stronger flower and bow below; and, again, a more subdued background. What might account for these differences? Our money would be on a “restoration” ahead of the 2008 exhibition – perhaps one of those restorations that are presented as discovery-yielding technical research… In any event, we can presumably all see that something happened in the thirty years between 1978 and 2008 to cause the paint on the chin to start to cracking – as can better be seen in the comparison below:

In our 2012 post we had shown a similar outbreak of cracking that attended the National Gallery’s restoration of Renoir’s “The Umbrellas”, as shown in details below. We observed that if the heavily cracked appearance of Renoir’s “La Loge” might be thought a poor advertisement for the Courtauld Institute’s own conservation training programme, what confidence should the emergence of massive cracking in the cleaned face of a principal figure in a major Renoir give in the National Gallery ’s cleaning policies?

With the National Gallery restoration there can be no casting of doubt on the photographic records: these images – above and below – are taken directly from the gallery’s own excellent photo-records of the painting that were made immediately before and immediately after the restoration in question – as photo-testimony, this is as good as it gets.

What conclusion can be drawn? We see above, as below, sudden outbreaks of cracking in two different and previously well-preserved Renoir portraits held in two prestigious London galleries. If these injuries are not consequences of restoration or conservation “treatments”, how might they have arisen? As things stand, the evidence of our eyes can only tell us that pictures are not safe in London museums. Must we further conclude that the museum staffs themselves simply fail to notice injuries and are therefore not up to the job? Or, that they feel so institutionally-protected as to be under no obligation to give account for injuries to the works they hold in trust for the nation? There has to be some explanation – and it is now, perhaps, time for it to be given?

Michael Daley, 31 October 2018


Whiter than right

Robin Simon, editor of the British Art Journal and Honorary Professor of English at University College, London, has visited Chartres Cathedral and condemned its present restoration on a Facebook post and in a tweet:

“Just visited Chartres and I am appalled at the misguided ‘restoration’ that is covering the old stone walls in paint, with false pointing, creating a bland and uniform interior where the articulation of the architecture is crudely diminished. The history of the walls, of the building itself, is lost beneath a futile attempt to return the building to some imagined date in the distant past. What makes it much, much worse is the presence of bright electric lighting at crossing, choir and east end that destroys the effect of the greatest stained glass ever made, which used to cast the most wonderful haunting blue light throughout what was a uniquely ethereal interior. The magnificent chiefly 17th-century carved choir screen that wraps around the high altar end is also being whitewashed and the figures painted white, which is diminishing the three-dimensionality of these dramatic groups fully carved in the round. They now, remarkably, look flat, and have a smooth slimy surface with much of the miraculous crispness of the carving and detail lost.”

Robin Simon @robinsimonbaj:

“Just seen #Chartres #cathedral shocking #restoration. Walls painted, false pointing, glaring lights ruining blue light of glass, 17C carved choir screen flattened by white paint. State vandalism, arrogant architects, wrong-headed’experts’. Sign the petition https://bit.ly/2AmSRmN
10:15 AM – 22 Oct 2018

Above, Fig. 1: Chartres Cathedral, with repainted vaulting in the choir contrasting with the existing nave and transepts in the foreground, Chartres, France, as published on July 11, 2012 in the New York Review (Photo: Hubert Fanthomme/Paris Match via Getty Images)

We have repeatedly attacked this restoration and on 16 December 2014 (“Chartres Cathedral Make-Work Scheme”) reported that this restoration had first been challenged in May 2012 by Alasdair Palmer in the Spectator – see his “Restoration tragedy” which began:

“Should old buildings look old? Or should they be restored to a condition where they look as if they could have been put up yesterday? Those questions are raised in a particularly pertinent form by the work going on at one of the most beautiful and inspiring of all old buildings: Chartres cathedral in France.

“Most of Chartres cathedral dates from between 1194 and 1230, when the bulk of the colossal stone structure, with its nearly 200 stained-glass windows and thousands of sculptures, was built. The extraordinary speed of its construction means that Chartres has an architectural and decorative unity that is unique among surviving cathedrals, most of which took a hundred years or more to complete, and were then altered drastically over the succeeding centuries.

“Chartres has suffered from the inevitable indignities inflicted by time. The paint with which the medieval artists originally covered the statues and the walls faded and flaked off within a few generations. Centuries of burning wax candles covered the interior with a thick layer of black soot. But Chartres remains far closer to the original building than almost any other medieval cathedral. The biggest effect of the intervening centuries since 1230 has been the accretion of the patina of age. A sense of the passing of time is part of the experience of looking at Chartres. The stone, the glass, the sculpture — it all looks very old, and its age is part of its fascination and its mystery.

“Or at least, it is in those parts of Chartres cathedral that have not yet been cleaned by the latest restoration project. It isn’t in those parts where the restorers have finished their work, for they look brand-new. There’s no patina of age here: there are only clean and bright surfaces.

“Is that an improvement? The restorers insist that it is…”

On 14 December 2014 Martin Filler, an architectural historian of Columbia University, New York, protested against the aims and consequences of such restorations in the New York Review (“A Scandalous Makeover at Chartres”):

“In 2009, amid a rising wave of other refurbishments of medieval buildings, the French Ministry of Culture’s Monuments Historiques division embarked on a drastic, $18.5 million overhaul of the eight-hundred-year-old cathedral. Though little is specifically known about the church’s original appearance—despite small traces of pigment at many points throughout the interior stonework—the project’s leaders, apparently with the full support of the French state, have set out to do no less than repaint the entire interior in bright whites and garish colors that are intended to return the sanctuary to its medieval state. This sweeping program to ‘reclaim’ Chartres from its allegedly anachronistic gloom is supposed to be completed in 2017.

“The belief that a heavy-duty reworking can allow us see the cathedral as its makers did is not only magical thinking but also a foolhardy concept that makes authentic artifacts look fake. To cite only one obvious solecism, the artificial lighting inside the present-day cathedral—which no one has suggested removing—already makes the interiors far brighter than they were during the Middle Ages, and thus we can be sure that the painted walls look nothing like they would have before the advent of electricity.”

Although the Chartres interior had initially been painted Filler noted that:

“…the exact chemical components of the medieval pigments remain unknown. The original paint is thought to have flaked off within a few generations and not been replaced, so for most of the building’s eight-century history it has not been experienced with painted surfaces. The emerging color scheme now allows a direct, and deeply disheartening, before-and-after comparison.”

Above, Fig. 2: left, Chartres cathedral stone work in its pre- and post-restoration conditions; right, the view looking SE in Chartres cathedral showing painted and unpainted areas adjacent to each other.

THWARTING A THREAT TO CHARTRES CATHEDRAL’S STAINED GLASS WINDOWS

As well as making a historically falsifying transformation of the interior, the funding of the restoration was itself exposing the ancient stained glass windows to needless risks. On 18 February 2016, Florence Hallett (“Chartres’ Flying Windows”) protested against plans to fly part of the cathedral’s stained glass to the United States as a fund-raising quid pro quo for support given by the American Friends of Chartres:

“While the cost of the controversial repainting of the cathedral’s interior has been met by the French state and donors including Crédit Agricole, Caisse Val de France et Fondation, and MMA assurances, the restoration of the cathedral’s famous glass has been funded in part by the American Friends of Chartres (AFC), an organisation that works ‘to raise awareness in the United States of Chartres Cathedral and its unique history, sculpture, stained glass, and architecture and their conservation needs.’

“Based in Washington, the AFC has ambitious plans to fund the restoration of the cathedral’s windows and sculptures. In 2013 it announced on its own site, and via the crowd-funding website razoo.com, that in return for funding the restoration of the Bakers’ Window (two lancets and a rose in the nave), the 13th-century glass would travel to a US museum. Indeed, the still extant webpage makes explicit the nature of the exchange, proclaiming: ‘American Friends of Chartres INVITES YOU to Restore and Bring to the United States a 13th-Century Stained Glass Window for Museum Exhibit’.”

Hallett’s specific challenge to the American Friends on the foolhardy plan to fly ancient stained glass windows to the United States seemed to have proved a successful deterrent. As we reported in a footnote:

“STOP PRESS: At 17.33 today, in answer to an email of 14 February, Florence Hallett was notified by the American Friends of Chartres that:

‘The exhibit of Bay 140 which had been envisaged will not take place because of cost reasons. And, to answer your question, of course all the proper authorizations from the French Ministry of Culture and other authorities had been secured by the DRAC-Centre Val de Loire, which had been nominated by the Ministry of Culture to execute the project. All the arrangements for the exhibit of Bay 140 would have been contractually arranged between the DRAC on behalf of the French authorities and the cultural institution that would have exhibited the window. American Friends of Chartres would not have been part of these contractual arrangements.’ ”

Above, Fig. 3: Top, a section of the Belle Verrière windows at Chartres. Above, a potential means of transport for early 13th century glass

If you owned or were the guardian of such ancient precious glass painting, would you pack it onto an aeroplane and dispatch it across an ocean to another continent? If “yes” you would be able to claim precedents: the ecclesiastical authorities at Canterbury cathedral sent the entire surviving six parts of an original cycle of eighty-six ancestors of Christ, once one of the most comprehensive stained-glass cycles known in art history, on a museum tour around the United States. (See “How the Metropolitan Museum of Art gets hold of the world’s most precious and vulnerable treasures”. )

Florence Hallett is the architecture and monuments correspondent at ArtWatch UK and visual arts editor at theartsdesk.com

Robin Simon gave the ninth annual ArtWatch International James Beck Memorial Lecture – “Never trust the teller trust the tale” – on 7 November 2017 at the Society of Antiquaries of London, in Burlington House, Piccadilly, London.

Alasdair Palmer has written frequently on art restoration for the Spectator and the Sunday Telegraph – see “Restoration tragedies” 26 August 2012.

Martin Filler is a prominent American architecture critic and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

WHO PROFITS?

The various strongly made cases against the Chartres Cathedral restoration project, rest in essence on the folly of attempting to replicate a speculative incompletely-informed notion of how an interior might have appeared many centuries ago when brand new. At Chartres this particular exercise is not only wrong-headed, it is, as Alasdair Palmer pointed out five and a half years ago, especially egregious: this attempted replication of an original state is inflicting a peculiarly brutal and unforgivable expunging of an ancient building’s historically lived evolving appearance. “Brutal”, because having been uniquely executed as a distinct artistically integrated whole this cathedral’s precious fabric had thereafter survived in uniquely unmolested form. Here was a building whose monumental lucidity might be considered a match for the timeless Parthenon. Here was a building which, unlike the Parthenon today, had not become a cadaver on a test bed for aggressively invasive conservation methods; which retained its forms and, even, an especial ancient illumination – one that, as Robin Simon attests, had once “cast the most wonderful haunting blue light throughout what was a uniquely ethereal interior”. Gone. And all in exchange for an $18million building contract that is already running over schedule and will, no doubt, end over budget.

When faced with incomprehensibly barbaric mistreatments of old art and monuments we must ask not only “why?” but “who profits?” The last is no slur. It is a necessary step towards explanations for otherwise inexplicably perverse cultural actions. It is indisputably the case that such high-prestige art and architecture restorations generate much employment, purchases of materials, scaffolding etc. – and that they can greatly enhance professional reputations. None of those consequences is necessarily wrong or bad in itself but due acknowledgement of them should constitute a component part of any calculus of appraisal of restorations or proposed restoration campaigns. It is concerning that in today’s rapidly accelerating restoration boom, material/professional interests are looming ever-larger as it proves increasingly easy to raise funds for large-scale building projects made on the back of the culturally-loaded, ethically coercive, names of “conservation” and “restoration”.

We have shown that it is European Union policy to increase activity in the arts sphere as a means of generating jobs in compensation for those being lost to less moribund economies: “I am especially happy to highlight the importance of culture to the European Union’s objective of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. At a time when many of our industries are facing difficulties, the cultural and creative industries have experienced unprecedented growth and offer the prospect of sustainable, future-oriented and fulfilling jobs.” See “Why is the European Commission instructing museums to incur more risks by lending more art?” and “The European Commission’s way of moving works of art around”.)

We know that the Chartres project has been part funded by the French Government. In this climate, greatly more vigilance and disclosure are now urgently required. No such project should ever be sprung on the world again. Monumentally dramatic proposals should be examined widely publicly and well in advance of the scaffolders moving in.

ASSORTED CONSERVATION RATIONALES

Above, Fig. 4: Left, the original interior of St Paul’s Cathedral as recorded in an undated but apparently 18th century painting that is owned by The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, at which date Sir Christopher Wren’s original painted finish comprised of three coats of warmly tinted oil paint that had been stipulated, according to Wren’s son, “not just for beautifying, but to preserve and harden the stone” still survived.

It was only disclosed during the recent under-researched stripping of the interior of St. Paul’s that Wren’s oil painted surface had contained lead white, ochre and black pigments so as to produce precisely the warm “stone colour” found in other Wren churches. Above, right, we see the new dazzling white surfaces of the building’s interior and its sculptures when illuminated by one of new electric chandeliers installed during the restoration because, as Martin Stancliffe, the cathedral’s then 17th Surveyor to the Fabric, put it, “the heart of my vision for the interior [was] to clean it and relight it”.

It is striking not only how frequently programmes have proceeded on artistically/art-historically injurious premises, but also how very contrary the aims of those various programmes can be. Where at Chartres cathedral attempt is being made to replicate a far-distant hypothesized original decorative scheme, at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, as Florence Hallett established, a major project to transform an interior was made on a reverse (and equally perverse) artistic/historical agenda. At St Paul’s, with a much more modern documented and visually recorded building, a programme was implemented to expunge the last traces of the original architect’s initial (and easily replicable) decorative programme with aesthetically falsifying – and, in the event, health-threatening – consequences even though the originally applied tinted oil paint was a known quantity, having survived intact in protected places.

In London too, much money was quickly raised but here it was spent stripping an interior down (with chemically-invasive materials never before used inside an occupied, still functioning cathedral) to create an a-historical modernist whiteness rather than to retain surviving traces or fully replicate the known original historic surface decoration. In consequence, not only has a powdery surface of stripped-down raw stone been exposed, but an already misleading appearance was subjected to the very greatly amplified artificial lighting that is shown above and was first established by Florence Hallett’s investigations: “Cleaning St. Paul’s Cathedral”, ArtWatch UK Journal 17, Winter, 2002; and “The supposedly ‘model’ restoration of St. Paul’s Cathedral”, ArtWatch UK Journal 18, Spring/summer 2003. Online, see Michael Daley: “Brighter than Right, Part 1: A Modernist Makeover at St Paul’s Cathedral” (1 June 2011) and “Brighter than Right, Part 2: Technical Problems of Protection, Health and Safety at St Paul’s Cathedral” (5 July 2011).

Above, Fig. 5: Left, a conservator removing a latex “cleansing pack” from a carved head at St Paul’s Cathedral, as published on the cover of Conservation News in May 2002. The journal reported that the latex was left on the surface for “one to four days” and that after its removal the stone was cleaned with “damp sponges and bristle brushes”. Right, a carved head at St Paul’s after being cleaned with water and bristle brushes. (Photography by Peter Smith/Jarrold Publishing.)

The chemical stripping-down of the cathedral’s interior surfaces to a novel whiteness was in accordance with an idée fixe of the 17th Surveyor to the Fabric, not of Sir Christopher Wren. In a 2005 programme note to a service held in honour of the restoration’s donors (“How the glory of St Paul’s was restored”), Mr Stancliffe declared that “the heart of my vision for the interior [was] to clean it and relight it”. In the Times of 10 June 2004 he announced his “pretty controversial” intention to introduce “six huge chandeliers” to flood the interior with artificial light. A year later he told the Guardian “we have installed new chandeliers and more lights” and expressed specific satisfaction on “seeing our initial vision gloriously realised.”

Above, Figs. 6 and 7: Top, the blotchy appearance of the stripped-down stone surfaces. Above, a simple, quick demonstration of the present dangerously powdery surfaces.

The brightness of this “restoration” was achieved at great aesthetic and material cost. As shown above, the surfaces have been left without patina and remain disfiguringly blotchy even after cosmetic attempts to mitigate the grosser consequences of the standardised indiscriminate cleaning method (see below). As for the supposed “conservation” purposes of this multi-million pounds programme, the interior’s now powdery surfaces are more vulnerable to environmental pollution and fluctuations of temperature and humidity than at any time in the building’s history. That the originally oil-paint protected surface of this limestone has been left as powdery as chalk was easily demonstrated by brushing the above sleeve against it.

CHECKS? BALANCES? TOOTHLESS WATCHDOGS?

Approval for the use of an experimental cleaning method on the interior of a publicly occupied and in-service cathedral had been given by The Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England in November 1999 following (claimed) earlier approvals by a bevy of heritage watchdogs: English Heritage; SPAB (The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings); The Victorian Society; and The Georgian Group. It is not possible to establish the precise chemical basis on which formal approval was given by the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England because, in breach of good conservation practices, the three technical parts of the eight part submission document were withheld on grounds of commercial confidentiality. For information on technical matters we had to rely on the cathedral’s own fluctuating (and often self-contradicting) accounts; on our correspondence with the 17th Surveyor to the Fabric, which he terminated in March 2003; and on documents obtained by cathedral employees whose health was adversely affected by the restoration.

The cleaning agent used on St Paul’s interior was an experimental, technically undisclosed, adaptation of a commercial product. In both its composition and effects, it earned censure from leading conservation experts (see below). It was a commercially available, latex rubber poultice laced with a mix of chemicals that were said to comprise an agent specifically tailored to be similar to the mild alkalinity of St. Paul’s Portland stone – that is, it was a special version of the “Arte Mundit” water-based paste manufactured by the Belgian company FTB Restoration. The instigator/director of the restoration, the architect and the 17th Surveyor to the Fabric at St Paul’s Cathedral, admitted (at a lecture on October 21st 2003) to having slim knowledge of matters chemical and of having devolved – “entrusted” – responsibility for the application of the new paste to the conservators of the firm Nimbus who themselves were learning on the job while the cathedral remained in full commercial and ecclesiastical use.

Professor Richard Wolbers, conservation scientist and solvents expert at the Winterthur Museum and Gardens, University of Delaware Art Conservation Department, was highly critical of a number of technical features of the programme and reiterated his fear that the authors “seem to have taken a poorly characterised material, a latex paste, and modified it with the addition of a considerable amount of EDTA – largely as an adaption in their minds, I suppose, of one of the main ingredients in the Mora’s AB57 cleaning system.”

(The Mora AB57 method was the notorious cocktail of EDTA, sodium and ammonium, detergent and other ingredients in a paste that was twice applied and twice washed off Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling paintings. We have chronicled the artistically disastrous consequence of stripping all organic material from the ceiling plaster. Within a generation the newly-exposed bare plaster had been secretly re-restored to remove powdering of the plaster, and then, in part-compensation, it was massively relit with coloured LED lights – see “The Sistine Chapel Restorations: Part I ~ Setting the Scene, Packing Them In” and “The Twilight of a God: Virtual Reality in the Vatican”.)

John Larson, the then Head of Sculpture and Inorganic Conservation at the Conservation Centre, National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, said that applications of moulding materials had contributed so much damage over the past 200 years that museums around the world “have now banned” their use, and that the application of liquid latex by brush or spray “has a dramatic effect on porous material such as stone…as it dries latex shrinks and clings tenaciously to the surface.” The effect of pulling it off the stone “exerts strong mechanical forces on the surfaces when the stone is carved and deeply undercut, as shown on the cover of Conservation News.” (See Figs. 5, 6 and 7 above.)

Above, Fig. 8: Left, sculptures at St. Paul’s being cleaned by steam jets; right, a detail showing the sculptures in the ambulatory of Chartres Cathedral on 11 July 2012. (Photograph by courtesy of Hubert Fanthomme/Getty Images.)

All horrible restorations are horrible in their own ways. Steam cleaning sculpture is considered an acceptable “conservation technique” even though it is visually deadening and leaves marble surfaces resembling white granular sugar and greatly more exposed to environmental pollution and fluctuations of humidity and temperature. We have witnessed conservators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, painting dead white steam-cleaned Greek marble carvings with water colours. One, when asked what he was doing, replied that he was “putting back the patina” destroyed by the cleaning. That, presumably, is why the Greek sculptures at the MET now sport a uniformly tasteful biscuit-coloured “patina” regardless of their age and geographical origins. As seen above, at St Paul’s Cathedral the all-white, sans-patina effect found favour and sculptures were left as raw-white as the building itself. At Chartres, however, the new visually deadening whiteness of the sculptures is the product of yet another method and philosophy. The sculptures are not being stripped down to the innate interior whiteness of the stone but are having a white skin of paint superimposed – before also being further brightened by artificial lights. The aesthetic, psychological and spiritual consequences of this practice at Chartres can be seen above right where just a few years ago the not-yet “restored” figures in the ambulatory still shared our common spaces. There, among us, touchable and as if alive, they had for centuries acted their roles in a drama greater than Shakespeare’s – one that, millennia ago, had been played for real on earth and, for believers, at God’s will for our benefit. Their once miraculously constructed living tableaus and endlessly changing chiaroscuro are now, as Robin Simon has so poignantly described, flattened and left with “a smooth slimy surface with much of the miraculous crispness of the carving and detail lost.”

Even now, it is not too late to save an unmolested portion of this cathedral for future generations who would otherwise never be aware of the loss and adulteration: a petition – and an invitation to comment – beckons at a touch.

Michael Daley, 30 April 2018

CODA:
Today, 30 April 2018, Electronics Weekly reports that the lighting firm Osram has announced it has won a contract to light St. Peter’s in Rome: “‘We won worldwide recognition for the LED lighting system we installed in the Sistine Chapel’, said Osram Licht CEO Olaf Berlien. ‘We are very excited about this new opportunity to demonstrate our skills as a provider of complex, large-scale lighting solutions by conducting the lighting project in St. Peter’s.’” The report does not say how much Osram will be paid to light St. Peter’s (and, thereby, showcase its own products) but it does give further information on the lighting installed in the Sistine Chapel “The aim was to light the paintings so they appear to be lit by sunlight…Researchers went so far as to incorporate the current thinking of historians – that Michelangelo mixed paints in daylight rather than under candlelight or the light of torches, and therefore needed a cooler over-all colour temperature to get the best view of them today”. Michelangelo, of course, painted in the light of the chapel and for the chapel’s then sources of lighting. Indeed, when the ceiling was stripped down with the Moras’ AB57 chemical cocktail, art historian apologists for the garish colours that emerged contended that Michelangelo had had to make his colours so intense in order for his painting to read through the gloom of the chapel. As Professor Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt of New York University and a Vatican spokesman for the restoration, put it in Apollo in December 1987: “Michelangelo…painted the ceiling in the knowledge that his forms would have to carry in the daylight or in the golden glow of candles and oil lamps. That’s one reason why his [restored] colours are so bright. Now that they are being revealed, the anachronistic spotlights only distort the appearance of the frescoes. In fact, the strong artificial lighting of cleaned areas of the Ceiling originally contributed to the false impression which disturbed critics of the conservation project.” In other words, now that the original colours of Michelangelo had been recovered, the chapel’s strong artificial lighting was surplus to aesthetic requirements. Why, then, was Osram recently invited to create a system of lighting for those (controversially) restoration-intensified colours that mimics the power of direct sunlight? For St Peter’s, Osram have a different agenda: “the lighting will be adjustable to suit different occasions, and will ‘accentuate the properties of the materials used and the building itself, highlighting the plasticity of the structure, its marbles and its architecture.'”


Christie’s recent sale of a stolen painting

In our 11 October post (“Two developments in the no-show Louvre Abu Dhabi Leonardo Salvator Mundi saga”) we suggested that new-style confidential legal conflict-resolution procedures might favour the big guys over the little guys – who “necessarily will forfeit their strongest card: the capacity to raise institutionally embarrassing press coverage”.

Just two days after that post, Mailonline carried a report that demonstrated the hard cash value that press coverage of grievances can unlock: “Painting stolen a week after being valued at £20,000 on Antiques Roadshow 30 years ago turns up at auction by Christie’s – who sell it to the astonishment of the disgruntled original owners”.

The Mailonline reports that the 1874 painting in question, Portrait of Mary Emma Jones, by Emma Sandys, had been stolen a week after the BBC show – in which its experts had valued it at £20,000 – was broadcast in January 1988. Christie’s, who sold the painting for £62,500 in July this year is now said by Mailonline to be involved in tense negotiations with the former owner’s daughter and to be “allegedly trying to buy the silence of the family from whom it was stolen by making an offer of £10,000 in exchange for them surrendering their claim and signing a confidentiality agreement.”

The family have rejected the offer as too low, according to the Times and Christies say that they won’t release it until a settlement can be reached.

Christie’s gushing catalogue entry said no more on the provenance than that the picture had been “recently rediscovered” and was “the property of a private collector”. This was the pre-sale lot essay in full:

“Emma Sandys was the sister of Frederick Sandys (1829-1904), whose luscious portraits in the Rossettian mould served as inspiration to his younger sibling. Although Emma’s work is similar in style and in the strength of its design, she established herself on her own professional terms, exhibiting at the Royal Academy, The Society of Lady Artists, and various Norwich galleries, thereby attracting patrons from amongst the local aristocracy. While images of women predominate in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, the wider artistic circle included many talented female artists, such as Emma, Elizabeth Siddal, Marie Stillman and Evelyn de Morgan, each of whom sustained successful artistic careers.

“Recently rediscovered, the present lot depicts Mary Emma Jones, Emma’s sister-in-law, who modelled for many of Frederick’s works including Perdita (Lloyd Webber Collection) and Proud Maisie (Victoria & Albert Museum). The oil painting appears to be based on a chalk drawing by Frederick from circa 1873, now in the Birmingham City Art Museum (see B. Elzea, Frederick Sandys (1829-1904), p. 249, no. 3.48) One of the characteristics of the oeuvre of the Sandys siblings was the sharing and repetition of models, studio props and costumes, as well as a similarity in technique which has often led to confusion over attribution between the siblings. Portrait of Mary Emma Jones bears all the hallmarks of Emma’s mature style, and shows the level of sophistication the genre achieved during the 1860s and 1870s.

“We are grateful to Betty Elzea, author of the monograph on Frederick Sandys, for confirming the attribution of the present lot.”

Under “Other information” and “Pre-Lot Text” was found the description “THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR”. That was all. So, no names, no dates, no theft, no nothing.

Once again, we can only repeat our 2014 contention that “As things stand, it can be safer to buy a second-hand car than an old master painting” (“Art crime”, Letter, the Times, 13 August 2014) and renew the call we made in that letter for governments to make it a statutory requirement that vendors should “disclose all that is known and recorded about the provenance and the restoration treatments of works of art”. How else might auctioneers be persuaded to supply a proper log book with their goods?

Michael Daley – 14 October 2018


Two developments in the no-show Louvre Abu Dhabi Leonardo Salvator Mundi saga

The art world is like no other. It goes its own way. It makes (and sometimes breaks) its own declared rules. Politicians scarcely dare touch it. Lawyers do well on it. It is often averse to disclosure and transparency and it is always full of surprises: since our 18 September post, there have been two spectacularly dramatic developments concerning the marketing and the appearance of the (still un-exhibited) Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi, which work appeared from nowhere in 1900 and has now rocketed from a $750 appraisal to a $450 million sale and elevation to the Louvre in barely a decade.

How? The most effective way to improve a picture’s standing and value is to change its appearance in the names of “conservation” and “restoration” – the sanctified procedures that facilitate the “discoveries” on which new evaluations may stand. In effect, restored works are new works that have shed old selves and reputations, thereby inviting re-appraisals in a new milieu. In technical parlance “conservation” is the overall process of transformation commonly described in quasi-medicalese as a “treatment” following state-of-the-art “diagnostic” technical analysis. The term “restoration” got a very bad reputation: when this Salvator Mundi was being downgraded from Luini to a Boltraffio copy, picture restorers had been dubbed “picture rats”. It is now confined to describing the late stages of conservation where conservator/restorers pick up brushes and paint towards the “recovery” of art historical authenticity. With this particular Leonardo upgrade, the changes of appearance were protracted and under-reported. Even less examined or reported were the picture’s geographical art market origins.

In “How the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi became a Leonardo-from-nowhere” we noted failed attempts by journalists, authors and researchers to identify the auction at which the Salvator Mundi had reportedly been sold for $10,000 to a “consortium” – which is not a “ring” – of buyers who had bid by proxy in 2005. How, in the world’s most technically advanced society in our digitalised era could records of a public auction and an auction house itself disappear? We asked of the picture:

“How had it been listed? Who sold it? When? Where? Many have searched and no one has found answers but this serially redone as-if-from-nowhere work has been sold twice already – with a different face of Christ each time – for a total of over half a billion dollars”

We noted that despite its unverifiable origins, this Salvator Mundi had been showcased as a Leonardo by the National Gallery in 2011-12 and then sold privately the following year by Sotheby’s for $80 million to the owner of a string of freeports who immediately sold it on to a Russian oligarch for $127 million. That sale was made under a nondisclosure agreement which, somehow, was back-dated by the vendors to include the identity of the auction house from where the picture had been bought eight years earlier. In 2017 after further (covert) restoration it was sold by Christie’s, New York, for $450 million. We asked if the initial 2005 opacity on ownership had passed through the National Gallery and into the art market because, on 9 October 2011, the Sunday Times had reported:

“For a few weeks in London you will be able to see the Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World) up close. It might be your only chance. Much of the painting’s history remains obscure. Its ownership is a closely guarded secret. Robert Simon, a New York art dealer, is representing the owner or owners – the official line is it is a ‘consortium’. Why all the secrecy? ‘It’s just privacy and security’, says Simon, ‘One doesn’t want people knocking on the door.’”

PERSISTING ART MARKET OPACITY

Six years later, by courtesy of super-diligent investigations by both a newspaper and the author of a forthcoming book on the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi, many answers have emerged on the 2005 sale (see below). At the same time, a long-running legal dispute over the manner of the Salvator Mundi’s 2013 New York private sale has flared into a legal action against Sotheby’s in the U.S. As Bloomberg and The Art Newspaper report (“Billionaire Slaps Sotheby’s With $380 Million Lawsuit”; and “Russian billionaire Rybolovlev sues Sotheby’s for $380m in fraud damages”), it is claimed in a New York lawsuit that the Salvator Mundi’s 2013 buyer, Yves Bouvier, had been materially assisted by Sotheby’s in what Rybolovlev describes as the “largest art fraud in history” by acquiring paintings at lower prices than he represented before selling them to Rybolovlev at unduly marked up rates, fraudulently pocketing millions for himself.

Rybolovlev’s widely reported legal action in New York against Sotheby’s, New York, for $380 million of damages, specifically charges the auctioneers with having knowingly and intentionally bolstered the plaintiff’s “trust and confidence in Bouvier and rendered the whole edifice of fraud plausible and credible” by brokering certain sales and inflated valuations.

Above, Fig. 1: Reports of the Rybolovlev v. Sotheby’s action carried by the Times and the Daily Telegraph on 3 October 2018.

SOTHEBY’S DEFENCE

The Antiques Trade Gazette reports that Bouvier’s legal representatives declined to comment on the latest case (“Sotheby’s refutes $380m fraud claim filed in New York court”). Where Rybolovlev had believed Bouvier to be negotiating with sellers on his behalf in return for a commission, Bouvier’s legal representatives claimed that because there had been no written agreement appointing Bouvier as an agent to Rybolovlev, their client had “acted as an independent seller transacting at arm’s length with Rybolovlev”. However, as the Art Newspaper reports, in addition to spectacularly large mark-ups, Bouvier was indeed charging Rybolovlev a commission fee: “some of the works in question include Gustav Klimt’s Wasserschlangen II (1904) which Bouvier bought in 2012 for $112m before selling it to Rybolovlev for $183.8m plus $3.6m in commission”. The Art Newspaper also reported earlier pre-emptive auction house moves to stymie Rybolovlev:

“Sotheby’s jointly sued Rybolovlev with Bouvier in Geneva in 2017 in order to block a lawsuit the Russian oligarch was planning to file in the UK. Since then, however, Rybolovlev has been granted the use of confidential documents from Sotheby’s to build his case by a New York court. The complaint filed in Manhattan on Tuesday yesterday likely stems from this development, though the documents remain publicly undisclosed.”

This is a case of potentially enormous importance in a trade that was traditionally conducted on gentlemanly agreements within a single country but now increasingly straddles borders around the globe. If, for example, the U.S. courts should find in favour of Rybolovlev, would the consortium of vendors who sold privately for $80million in 2013 under a non-disclosure agreement (only to see the painting resold immediately for $127 million), also have a case against Sotheby’s, New York? Certainly, as Professor Martin Kemp alludes in his latest book, Living with Leonardo, a sense of grievance resides in that quarter:

“In November 2016, an article in The New York Times reported the latest developments: three ‘art traders’ (Robert Simon, Warren Adelson and Alexander Parrish) were disconcerted to find that painting was ‘flipped’ by Bouvier for $47.5m more than their selling price. Was Sotheby’s a knowing party to the resale? The auction house claimed that it was not, taking pre-emptive legal action to block any law suit by the ‘traders’…”

THE FORMERLY UNDISCLOSED 2005 AUCTION HOUSE SALE

Previously, we have chided Kemp for seeming to make light of the fact that no visual record existed of the picture either when sold at Sotheby’s, London, for £45 in 1958 or at some untraceable place in the U. S. in 2005:

“Given that we do not know the identity of the 2005 vendor or the venue of the sale and given the still sticky varnish then present on the New York/Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi, it could be useful to establish the identity of the previous owner who might well have information on previous restorations and photo-records of the painting from 1958 onwards.”

The next day (19 September 2018), The Wall Street Journal reported its discovery of the 2005 sale location (“How a $450 Million da Vinci Was Lost in America —and Later Found”). The hugely informative article by Denise Blostein, Robert Libetti and Kelly Crow, raises further questions – but first, it also carries an important reproduction of the painting when framed and on offer in 2005. This new image can now be set in its historic context.

THE SALVATOR MUNDI’S EXTENDED, EVER-MORPHING, VISUAL NARRATIVE:

Above, Fig. 2: A detail from the catalogue to the 9-10 April 2005 sale at the St. Charles Gallery auction house, New Orleans, showing a work to be sold from the estate of a Baton Rouge business man Basil Clovis Hendry Sr.

It is clear – even on the small scale, low-resolution catalogue photograph above – that the painting’s appearance had changed considerably at some point (or points) after the earliest known photograph when in the Sir Francis Cook collection (Fig. 3, below, left). Unfortunately, the 2005 vendor has yet to speak and we do not know whether any changes to the painting had been made while in the Cook collection, or by Sotheby’s (London) ahead of the 1958 sale to “Kuntz”, or by the Kuntz family and relatives at some point between 1958 and 2005.

Above, Fig. 3: Left, the photograph of the painting when in the Cook collection and judged to be a work of Bernardino Luini; right, the former Kuntz family and then Basil Clovis Hendry Sr. estate painting, as in the 2005 St. Charles Gallery catalogue.

With this new photo-record the extent of successive restoration transformations in the painting’s 1900 to 2017 journey from a Luini to a $450 million Leonardo can better be appreciated.

In Fig. 4, above, in the top row we see, successively: 1) the c. 1900 Cook collection photograph; 2) the 2005 New Orleans sale catalogue photograph; 3) the painting as when taken in 2005 (still sticky from some recent activity) to the New York studio of the restorer Dianne Dwyer Modestini; and, 4) the 2007 record of the painting after it had been stripped and had its panel repaired. Aside from areas of total paint loss, how much of the original paint surface had been lost? If hardly any at all, as was once claimed, why so much subsequent repainting? If the original surface had been much-abraded, was due acknowledgement made of the extensive subsequent artistic changes on a single restorer’s judgements and painting? (The brushes used for this extended repainting were offered on Ebay but failed to sell.) Had all bidders in 2017 been aware of the extent to which the restorer distressed her own extensive new painting so as to confer a spurious impression of antiquity to it? (See below.) How many who bid for this painting in Sotheby’s and Christie’s sales were aware of the ratio of old to new paint?

In the second row above at Fig. 4, we see successively: 5) the painting in 2007 after Modestini’s first campaign of restoration repainting and when about to be taken to London for examination at the National Gallery by a select group of Leonardo experts who had been sworn to confidentiality; 6) the painting in 2011 after its second campaign of restoration and as exhibited at the National Gallery for the first time as a Leonardo in the gallery’s Leonardo da Vinci – Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition; and, 7) in November 2017, as sold at Christie’s New York, for $450 million after a further (covert) campaign of restoration in which the globe and the draperies at Christ’s left shoulder were radically changed.

It is not known whether the painting had been restored in 2012-13 after the National Gallery exhibition and before the opaque private sale at Sotheby’s, New York. In December 2017 (after the painting had been sold for $450 million) Christie’s, New York, acknowledged that the work had undergone further restoration by Dianne Modestini ahead of the November 2017 sale (see Dalya Alberge, “Auctioneers Christie’s admit Leonardo Da Vinci painting which became world’s most expensive artwork when it sold for £340m has been retouched in last five years” and our “The $450m New York Leonardo Salvator Mundi Part II: It Restores, It Sells, therefore It Is”.)

THE STRIPPING-DOWN AND REPAINTING METHOD USED ON THE LOUVRE ABU DHABI PAINTING:

“The initial cleaning was promising especially where the verdigris had preserved the original layers. Unfortunately, in the upper parts of the background, the paint had been scraped down to the ground and in some cases to the wood itself. Whether or not I would have begun had I known, is a moot point. Since the putty and overpaint were quite thick I had no choice but to remove them completely. I repainted the large missing areas in the upper part of the painting with ivory black and a little cadmium red light, followed by a glaze of rich warm brown, then more black and vermilion. Between stages I distressed and then retouched the new paint to make it look antique. The new colour freed the head, which had been trapped in the muddy background, so close in tone to the hair, and made a different, altogether more powerful image. At close range and under a strong light the new background is obvious, but at only a slight remove, it closely mimics the original…Most of the retouching was done with dry pigments bound with PVA AYAB. Translucent watercolours, mainly ivory black and raw siena, were used for final glazes and to draw [false age-] cracks…”

The above account of the repainting was delivered at a conference in the National Gallery, London, during the 2011-12 Leonardo in Milan exhibition, by Dianne Dwyer Modestini. It was later published as “The Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci rediscovered History, technique and condition” in 2014 in “Leonardo da Vinci’s Technical Practice – Paintings, Drawings and Influence”, ed. Michel Menu, Paris. It covers only the first six years of restoration up to 2011 and the National Gallery exhibition. So far as we know, no accounts have been given of the subsequent restoration work.

THE WENCESLAUS HOLLAR ETCHING PROBLEM

When this particular Leonardesque Salvator Mundi was included in the National Gallery’s Leonardo da Vinci – Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition and catalogue it was, as previously shown, presented as the original autograph Leonardo prototype for all of the other versions. In support of that claim, this version was held to have been a Leonardo painting in the collection of Charles I that had (probably) passed down from the French royal descendents of King Louis XII, who, it was suggested against contrary evidence, had commissioned Leonardo to produce the picture. As previously seen, it is now counter-claimed – again on no evidence – that although the painting had not passed down through the French royal family, it had been appropriated by Charles I from the Hamilton collection. In addition to the disintegrating provenance that buttressed the Leonardo endorsements of the National Gallery, Sotheby’s, and Christie’s between 2011 and 2017, there remains the plain visual objection that the Louvre Abu Dhabi painting is simply not consistent with Hollar’s 1650 etched copy of a Salvator Mundi painting then taken as a Leonardo.

Above, Fig. 5: Successively, from the left: 1) Wenceslaus Hollar’s 1650 engraved copy of a painting believed to be a Leonardo; 2) the 1900 Cook collection painting when attributed to Luini; 3) the former Cook painting when offered for sale in 2005 from the Hendry estate; 4) the former Cook/Hendry painting when restored by Modestini and exhibited in the National Gallery’s 2011-12 Leonardo show; 5) the painting in 2017 when further restored by Modestini and sold by Christie’s, New York.

SECOND TIME LUCKY

The Cook/Kuntz/Hendry painting is not the first of the score or so Leonardo school Salvator Mundis to be attributed to Leonardo himself. As previously discussed, the so-called de Ganay Salvator Mundi (below, left) was attributed to Leonardo in 1978 and 1982 and it enjoyed a greatly more plausible French lineage.

Above, Fig. 6: Successively from the left: 1) the de Ganay Salvator Mundi; 2) the Hollar 1650 etching; 3) the Cook/Kuntz/Hendry Salvator Mundi which emerged without history in England in 1900.

The compositions of neither painting above are entirely consistent with that of the Hollar copy but the de Ganay version comes closer in a number of crucial respects: its Christ has much greater sculptural presence and pictorial lucidity; its (true) left shoulder drapery has a more angular, less rounded configuration; its long, downwards-tapering, heavily bearded face is an altogether more prominently assertive feature within the painting (- and clearly was not designed to sink into the kind of “out-of-focus” aerial recession as characterised and applauded by Martin Kemp who takes this quasi-photographic effect as a confirmation of Leonardo’s hand in the Abu Dhabi picture); and, on a small but highly expressive detail, the corners of the mouth are more upturned.

As previously discussed, there is only one respect in which the Abu Dhabi picture is more compatible with the Hollar: the hand and globe are equally tightly tucked into the bottom right-hand corner of the composition. As shown previously and below at Fig. 7, within that local coincidence, nothing approaches a “fit” between the Hollar and Abu Dhabi images.

In the three-part diagram above, a tracing of the Abu Dhabi picture’s figure (black line) and format (red box) is laid over the Hollar etching in three different positions.

In the diagram, above left, the traced outline of the Abu Dhabi painting is positioned over the Hollar image so as to align their respective and distinctive right-hand edges. That edge is a critical consideration because it had not been cut down (as the left-hand edge has been) and it shows that the painting’s author ineptly ran out of space when painting the truncated thumb that sticks out at a right angle from the hand holding the globe. This feature is utterly anomalous. Had this painting been Leonardo’s own prototype for all other versions, why had no one copied it?
In this arrangement we can see that although the globe in the Hollar is larger than that in the Abu Dhabi picture, their circumferences coincide at one point. However, when so-aligned, everything else is misaligned. If the fingers of the blessing hand are aligned, as in the second overlay, above, centre, there is also a correspondence with the outline of the tops of the heads. In the overlay above right, where the respective left-hand edges are aligned, everything is misaligned.

Above, Fig. 8: Left, the de Ganay Salvator Mundi as published in 1982; right, the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi as sold in November 2017.

In addition to earlier comments on the de Ganay and Abu Dhabi globes, we reproduce four self-explanatory graphics below that show the hand/globe configuration in the de Ganay picture to accord more closely with the Hollar etching configuration than does that of the Louvre Abu Dhabi painting. These illustrations are the work of a Japanese painter, Hikaru Hirata-Miyakawa, who has long-engaged with Leonardo’s painted images. He writes:

“Regarding the comparison of Hollar’s etching to the Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi and de Ganay Salvator Mundi, I have juxtaposed them using Photoshop. I have found that, as with the positions of the left hand, the shape and areas of reflections on the Hollar and the de Ganay globes are quite similar. Whereas, the Abu Dhabi globe does not show any reflection of the light source at all – except for the three white dots that remind me of the tiny holes for holding bowling balls. To make the comparisons I confined the images strictly to the globe and its supporting hand. While it was necessary to adjust the image sizes to make clear comparisons, I have not changed any ratios – the width and height ratio is intact and no manipulation was made to the images.”

PRESENT POSITIONS ON THE LOUVRE ABU DHABI SALVATOR MUNDI IN THE WAKE OF RECENT DISCLOSURES:

1 There is nothing to confirm that Wenceslaus Hollar’s 1650 etched copy of a Salvator Mundi painting was made from the Louvre Abu Dhabi picture.

2 There is no evidence that the painting sold in 1651 from the estate of Charles I as “A peece of Christ done by Leonardo” was either the painting copied by Hollar in 1650 or the painting acquired by the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2017.

3 There is no evidence to support suggestions that the painting in Charles I’s collection is the painting later acquired for the Sir Francis Cook collection in 1900.

4 There is no evidence to support suggested claims that the painting in Charles I’s collection had been in French royal collections, let alone commissioned from Leonardo by Louis XII as suggested in the opening of Christie’s, New York, 2017 provenance:

“(Possibly) Commissioned after 1500 by King Louis XII of France (1462-1515) and his wife, Anne of Brittany (1477-1514), following the conquest of Milan and Genoa, and possibly by descent to Henrietta Maria of France (1609-1669), by whom possibly brought to England in 1625 upon her marriage to King Charles I of England (1600-1649)…”

5 No one has ever explained why Leonardo might have painted a prominently raised hand of Christ with two fingers that are artistically compatible with those of the Mona Lisa and three other digits that are ill-drawn, un-anatomical and consistent with no Leonardo work.

6 We do not know what, if any, provenance was provided by Sotheby’s, New York, when what is now the Louvre Abu Dhabi picture was sold privately in 2013 to Yves Bouvier. The contractual nature of Bouvier’s relationships to Sotheby’s and to the collector Dmitry Rybolovlev has yet to be determined by the courts of law in New York.

7 We now know, thanks to the Wall Street Journal, that the auction house in New Orleans at which the New York consortium/Rybolovlev/Louvre Abu Dhabi Salvator Mundi was reportedly sold in 2005 for $10,000 on a $1,200-1,800 estimate (after being privately appraised for the vendor at $750) was the St. Charles Gallery branch of the New Orleans Auction Gallery in New Orleans. The New Orleans Auction Gallery reportedly went into bankruptcy proceedings and later came under new ownership as the New Orleans Auction Gallery. The Wall Street Journal reports that the director of marketing and public relations at the present New Orleans Auction Gallery has said that the new company has no records from the previous company of the same name and that: “We are not associated with that company at all”. This means that there was no possibility for the 2005 vendor to bring an action for negligence against the earlier New Orleans Auction Gallery. It means that there is presently no way of identifying/verifying/establishing who was the proxy for the consortium said to have bought the Louvre Abu Dhabi picture for $10,000 in 2005. If this is the case today, what was the situation in 2011-12 when the picture was exhibited at the National Gallery; in 2013 when Sotheby’s, New York, sold the picture privately to the fast-flipping Bouvier; and in 2017 when the picture was sold publicly by Christie’s, New York? If answers cannot be given to such questions, could anyone today challenge our 2014 contention that “As things stand, it can be safer to buy a second-hand car than an old master painting” (“Art crime”, Letter, the Times, 13 August 2014)?

THE OTHER LEONARDO-FROM-NOWHERE

In 1998 a drawing was put on the market by Christie’s, New York, as: “German School, early 19th century” and “the property of a lady”. When, some years after the sale, the work was said in the press to be a Leonardo worth $150-200 million (as the so-called “La Bella Principessa”) on fingerprint evidence (- see “PROMOTING THE DRAWING THAT CAME FROM NOWHERE”) the lady concerned disclosed her identity and brought an action for damages against the auction house on what was then only a claimed valuation on a proposed attribution, not a market-established sale. Only then was it learnt what the first buyer, a New York dealer, had not known: the vendor, Jeanne Marchig, was the widow of Giannino Marchig who was the drawing’s only owner and a painter/restorer (of Leonardo, among others) who had been an intimate of Bernard Berenson, helping him to conceal his collection from the Germans during the War. When the drawing’s second purchaser, the collector/dealer, Peter Silverman, and the Leonardo specialist, Professor Martin Kemp, trawled the Berenson archives together in search of a reference to the drawing they drew a blank. That drawing remains without history outside of the artist/restorer’s studio and, physically, it remains, as far as we know, unsold in a Swiss freeport. Such is precisely the kind of information to which potential buyers should rightfully be privy.

On the Salvator Mundi, the Wall Street Journal has said: “Mr. Simon says he has been unable to disclose details of the 2005 sale because of a nondisclosure agreement he signed when he sold the painting in 2013.” In the April 6 Antiques and Arts Weekly, Dr Robert Simon was asked: “Can you say where you found Leonardo’s ‘Salvator Mundi’?” He replied:

“Alex and I acquired the painting at an estate auction in the United States, but we’ve never divulged the location of the auction. We were not permitted to, according to the terms of the confidentiality agreement we signed at the time we sold the painting.”

Whatever purpose might have been served by the 2013 nondisclosure agreement with Sotheby’s, the painting’s origins had been unclear even before it was exhibited as a Leonardo at the National Gallery in its 2011-12 Leonardo in Milan exhibition. In the National Gallery’s 2011 catalogue entry it was said only that the Salvator Mundi was from a “Private collection”. In October 2011, the Sunday Times reported: “Luke Syson [the show’s curator] is one of the few people who knows who owns the picture. ‘We couldn’t exhibit it otherwise. It’s not being wafted to us in a brown envelope.” (Kathy Brewis, “Leonardo? Convince Me”, the Sunday Times, 9 October 2011.) Brewis wondered about the ownership and whether the National Gallery was taking a risk putting the painting on display, “so soon after its authentication”. A month afterwards the mystery of ownership remained. In the Times (“It’s kind of scary – I wrapped it in a bin liner and jumped into a taxi with it”, 12 November 2011), Ben Hoyle reported:

“Robert Simon has always hero-worshipped Leonardo da Vinci. When the New York art historian was 15 and a small-scale art dealer, he made a ‘pilgrimage’ to the artist’s birthplace in Vinci, in Tuscany. In his 20s he almost wrote his doctoral thesis on Leonardo’s followers, but was dissuaded by the immensity of the task. So when some old friends in the art world came to Mr Simon six years ago with a crudely restored picture that they had bought, he wondered if he was getting carried away when he started to speculate that it might be by one of the great man’s apprentices…He now has a stake in the picture as ‘sweat equity’ for the work he has done on it…”

Whatever the precise arrangements of ownership with the 2005 acquisition, it must be asked why the National Gallery agreed to participate in this public secrecy on a painting whose (contested) Leonardo ascription was being supported by the gallery’s director, by one of its curators and by one of its trustees.

A FURTHER THREAT TO ART WORLD TRANSPARENCY

The present lack of transparency is likely to increase with the growing practice of settling international art market disputes not through open courts but behind closed doors with lawyers working with conflicted parties on mutually confidential “mediations” or “arbitrations”. In London on 3 October 2018, an international art lawyers’ symposium on the resolution of art world and cultural heritage disputes was jointly organised by the School of International Arbitration (SIA), Queen Mary University of London, and the Switzerland and Singapore-based arbitration and mediation centre of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The event was (generously) hosted in Park Lane by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, America’s second biggest law firm which is famed for its federal government connections and which employs over a thousand lawyers worldwide. A former partner, Robert Mueller, is Special Counsel to the investigation into Russian interference in the last U.S. presidential campaign. Although much interesting material was disclosed at the symposium about the nature and successes of these procedures, the resolutions of no specific art world disputes were identified because of their built-in confidentiality agreements. It might be the case that the new practices will favour the big guys over the little guys – who necessarily will forfeit their strongest card – the capacity to raise institutionally embarrassing press coverage. It might not. The problem is that no one will have any way of knowing, while both parties to settlements will be able (privately) to hint at satisfaction with the invisible outcome. No one will be publicly embarrassed, chastened, admonished, exonerated or vindicated. Virtue will be unrewarded because unrecognised.

In “SECRET DEALS AND THE ARTS CLUB” we said that since our first warning in 2014 of the threat to market confidence posed by the art world’s toxic attributions, and our specific call that year (in the above-mentioned Times letter) for increased transparency through a statutory requirement that vendors should “disclose all that is known and recorded about the provenance and the restoration treatments of works of art”, Georgina Adam had written in her 2017 book Dark Side of the Art Boom, that:

“At its base, the Bouvier/Rybolovlev dispute was about the nature of their business conducted within a market that has always thrived on secret backroom deals. By keeping vendors and buyers apart – they may never know who the other is – and insisting on discretion, agents, dealers, advisors can use this anonymity to their advantage. Various reasons can be put forward, from the need for security to the desire to avoid family quarrels or the taxman, to the risk of someone else bagging the work for sale. In the Bouvier/Rybolovlev case, one of Bouvier’s emails about a Magritte, said: ‘I must carry out this [negotiation] with the greatest discretion to avoid drawing attention to the painting and its owner; the risk is that we could lose it at auction’.”

Paintings can only be “lost” at auctions if others are prepared to pay the vendor more. It would seem that, aside from facilitating stealth manoeuvres, under privately conducted sales a larger sum of monetary value is likely to accrue to the buyer and a smaller one to the owner/vendor. Traditionally, auction houses’ first loyalty has been to the sellers: by going to an open competitive market, the highest possible price is achieved for a given work – that is the promise. By comparison, the deal for buyers is less assured: the small print insists that it is for buyers to satisfy themselves that works offered for sale are as they are described to be by the auction house – descriptions are not guarantees. Were auction houses to favour big, regular buyers over vendors they would jeopardise their own reputations. In his latest book, Martin Kemp discloses that when “La Bella Principessa’s” first vendor, Jeanne Marchig, publicly filed a suit against Christie’s in 2010 and again, on appeal, in July 2011, the auction house settled out of court by donating an undisclosed sum to the vendor’s own animal charity even though, as he adds:

“It has been reported to me that anyone who asks Christie’s what they now think is told privately that the portrait is a forgery.”

Michael Daley – 11 October 2018


wibble!