Even before Leonardo Da Vinci’s
, naysayers from
around the art world were savaging its authenticity. Various advisors were
muttering darkly, both online and in the auction previews, and one
day before the sale magazine’s Jerry Saltz that
though he’s “no art historian or any kind of expert in old masters,” just “one
look at this painting tells me it’s no Leonardo.” went to auction last night at Christie’s in New York
And that was before the painting obliterated every previous auction record, selling, with premium, for $450 million.
Shortly after the gavel came down on Wednesday evening, the a piece by the critic Jason Farago where, after also noting that he’s “not the man to affirm or reject its attribution,” declared that the painting is “a proficient but not especially distinguished religious picture from turn-of-the-16th-century Lombardy, put through a wringer of restorations.”
Had the buyer of the most expensive painting in the world just purchased a piece of junk?
All of the most relevant people believe it’s by Leonardo, so the rather extensive criticism that goes ‘I don’t know anything about old masters, but I don’t think it’s by Leonardo’ shouldn’t ever have gone to print,” says the British old masters dealer . “Yes, it’s a picture that needed to be extensively restored. But the fact that it’s unanimously accepted as a Leonardo shows it’s in good enough condition that there weren’t questions of authenticity.”
After speaking to multiple prominent old masters dealers— a group not exactly known for holding its tongue— the real issue regarding the Leonardo’s validity seems to be a question of education: “All old masters have had work done to them,” says the dealer , whose London gallery is directly across from Christie’s.
“They’ve all been scrubbed and cleaned, but when you think about a particular painting and say, ‘oh it’s by Titian, but a quarter of it was recreated by other restorers,’ it still is what it is.”
Those in the art world who dismiss its authenticity, dealers say, are simply transferring criteria used to judge contemporary art onto old masters—the equivalent of comparing the specs of a new Honda against a Ferrari from 1965. They’re both cars, but that’s where the similarities end.
“To a certain extent you have to put condition aside,” says the dealer . “Of course it’s not perfect, and of course it’s not mint. But can you get another one?”