Salvator Mundi: The Art of the Deal
January 7, 2019 12:25 PM   Subscribe

After fetching $450 million (£342M) at auction Salvator Mundi, a once-lost painting by Leonardo da Vinci (or maybe not) has apparently been lost again. Did the buyer simply not read up about how to secure and transport expensive masterpieces , or is something else going on? Something maybe having to do with money laundering, election tampering, and the Trump family? Robert Mueller is investigating.

h/t to the Narativ article for the headline.
posted by majorsteel (24 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
A friend of mine linked that Narativ article on Facebook this morning, calling it some Da Vinci Code level bullshit. I noticed quickly that the piece seems to insist Bin-Salman is the buyer, however one of the first links in it debunks that:

"US media reports initially said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the unidentified buyer. However, documents seen later by Reuters news agency and others indicated that Saudi Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, a relative of the crown prince, had made the purchase on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism."
posted by dnash at 12:41 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

This may be the worst possible timeline, but you have to admit it is a postmodern masterpiece.
posted by sjswitzer at 12:48 PM on January 7, 2019 [14 favorites]

I found this article about the re-touching of the painting to be really interesting.
posted by stillnocturnal at 12:49 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

It's rabbit holes all the way down alice.
posted by srboisvert at 12:52 PM on January 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

Seems like everything is touched by this widening über-scandal. There's no escaping it. Mueller is the webmaster.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:18 PM on January 7, 2019

This seems to be the writers of our clearly fictional reality signalling that the Mueller sideplot isn't going to pay off until next season and this season the special council's office will mostly be doing monster of the week type stuff
posted by Rinku at 1:20 PM on January 7, 2019 [40 favorites]

"US media reports initially said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the unidentified buyer. However, documents seen later by Reuters news agency and others indicated that Saudi Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, a relative of the crown prince, had made the purchase on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism."

I know they have a lot of money to throw around, but do you think anyone can spend $450 million of Saudi money (that is, around $25 per citizen of Saudi Arabia) without involving the famously-involved-in-everything Crown Prince? Also, using plausible cutouts when laundering money is definitely a thing.
posted by Etrigan at 1:40 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wonder if Mueller is just having a blast. Like, he enjoys a good mystery and the Russian investigation is the gift that keeps on giving. Thought he'd uncover a little cyber espionage and maybe some shady Trump team meetings, then it's NRA Honeypots, real estate money laundering and art insurance schemes: what a treat. I like to picture him at home in his study by a roaring fireplace, sipping brandy and wearing a Sherlock Holmes hat while he pours over the daily reports, just having a hoot of a time.
posted by es_de_bah at 1:46 PM on January 7, 2019 [17 favorites]

I wonder if Mueller is just having a blast.

He's a lifelong Republican, so I suspect that he's increasingly dismayed at how easily and thoroughly his party sold out to idiots, hacks, and literal anti-Americans.
posted by Etrigan at 1:59 PM on January 7, 2019 [15 favorites]

I wonder if Mueller is just having a blast. Like, he enjoys a good mystery and the Russian investigation is the gift that keeps on giving.

I just want a peek at his room-sized connections string map. It must look like an invasion of spiders by now.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:10 PM on January 7, 2019 [24 favorites]

The Narativ article seems to be more insinuation than a coherent argument.

1) Why would MbS need to use the sale of a painting to hide a payment to Rybovlev? That's weirdly obvious and (because commission fees) needlessly expensive.
2) Was Trump's election really worth $300 million to MbS?
3) Was whatever Psy-Group allegedly did worth $300 million? That's a lot of money! Trump's campaign officially raised only $398 million total, so that almost doubles it. What did Psy-Group spend it on? What does it do the rest of the time? Even if the $300 million was a windfall, surely it implies that the firm needs to be doing comparable amounts of work in order to pay people's wages?
4) If you're spending that sort of money, would you really seek approval from Don Jr., who is merely the inane and inept son of a candidate? Everything else the campaign did seems like a Trump family graft, why would this be different?

Maybe - assuming the author's facts are generally correct - this is a simpler explanation: MbS (or his delegate) spent $450 million on the painting because he's a dumbass, or as a way of artificially inflating its "value" (with the excess being repaid under the table), or as a way of turning Saudi state funds into MbS's personal account. If Psy-Group did anything for the Trump campaign it was on the order of other known campaign expenditures. All the people mentioned are crooked, when their paths intersect it's because they're all doing crooked things, but the Da Vinci connection is a pure red herring.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:42 PM on January 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

Sorry about my wildly speculative earlier comment. However the imagery of those men, the Saudis and Trump with their hands on the lighted orb, and the orb in the painting, sort of leapt out at me. All parties, party.
posted by Oyéah at 3:37 PM on January 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

I was floored by that too, Oyéah, though your earlier comment seems to have disappeared.

The timing is that Trump's first foreign trip was In May of 2017, and that was the occasion for the photo showing Trump, the King of Saudi Arabia, and al-Sisi of Egypt with their hands on a glowing orb of a map of the world, looking very like a magic ritual to ensure joint domination of the world; whereas Salvatore Mundi with its orb of the world was auctioned in September 2017, though it must have been scheduled months before that, and it seems to me I saw somewhere that the restoration took at least a year, and that it had been in the possession of the Russian for years.

So a cause and effect narrative would demand that Salvatore Mundi had been chosen as the vehicle for the laundered payment some time in advance by someone with a wicked sense of humor or a strange and surprising belief in the power of rituals -- or both. And with the vast behind the scenes influence it would have taken to bring that group of actors together for that purpose, not to mention enormous ambition.

Putin, in other words. I have heard that Putin has a superstitious dread of the ides of March, and the Internet is rife with it, but I can't find anything definitive.
posted by jamjam at 4:30 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Well also the occlusions in the orb might be three stars from the back of the big dipper, setting in his hand, and maybe this is a discussion of time. March has one of my favorite skies, but I don't know what the big dipper is doing then.
posted by Oyéah at 6:55 PM on January 7, 2019

(The big dipper is always in the sky in the northern hemisphere (at least at European latitudes) and, orbiting the north celestial pole, never sets below the horizon, even partially...though this changes the further south you go...)
posted by sexyrobot at 7:15 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I thought it was a transparent fraud when the story first came out in 2017, and the Artwatch article makes it even more clear. I had thought it was just the usual authentication fraud, but in fact they basically repainted an entirely new version of the painting on top of an old Bernardino Luini painting.
posted by tavella at 9:08 PM on January 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

I'm not familiar with Artwatch, but their articles on the painting are another rabbit hole off of this rabbit hole.
posted by carter at 4:55 AM on January 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

es_de_bah, Maybe the timeline we're living in is a series based on the movie The Game. Mueller is the Michael Douglas character and we're all just unwitting extras...
posted by youthenrage at 11:36 AM on January 8, 2019

Somewhere, with no apparent mechanism, Salvator Mundi is shredding itself.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:58 PM on January 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

Glad I got to see Salvator Mundi when it was on display in San Francisco pre-auction in October 2017. Definitely seems now like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
posted by larrybob at 2:53 PM on January 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

So there's an interesting article in the Guardian which has a high-definition image of the pre-"restoration" painting. And it's interesting in two ways. One, in showing how heavily it was repainted, and second in that it really brings into sharp relief the right hand.

Compare the intricate folds and highlights of the robe there to the slapdash barely there texturing of the rest of the robe. Consider the graceful realism and life of the hand to the 'sphere' where there is no play on reflection or refraction, just a smearing of paint to indicate a clear globe of some sort. The right hand, that I can believe was painted by a master, though I don't know if it would have to be a Great Master and I don't know how you'd identify it as likely Leonardo. But the rest of the painting? No way.

Look at the other da Vinci paintings. There's not a single one where you have that kind of flat dead face. Every head is tilted, turned, full of subtle life. I admit the face is one of the most damaged parts, and expression is evoked delicately in da Vinci's works -- it's hard to pick out exactly what brushstrokes evoke the subtle quirk of the lips that gives Cecilia Gallerani such a sense of good humor -- but I still don't think it had much life to start with.

If the painting ever came under the hand of Leonardo, I'm pretty sure it was just to paint a study of a hand and then he wandered off bored and someone with a great deal less talent tried to fill in a painting around it.
posted by tavella at 5:20 PM on January 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

From Tavellas link, I found this video on the Guardian, that is a time lapse of the restoration.

It’s not even the same painting. This work should have been sold as the creation of the restoration artist. I’m not a Leonardo expert, but I’ve been to a couple exhibits, and I’m with tavella, this painting Feels more like it came from the studio or students of davinci, but it’s so flat and static it doesn’t feel like the master.

Perhaps if the painting had been left alone, and not repainted, it would feel real.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 6:27 PM on January 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also, I noticed that the "3 occlusions" in the sphere that some expert made a big deal about in how that must mean it is Leonardo because that was so super-realistic for crystal seem to have been introduced wholesale by the "restorer".
posted by tavella at 8:24 PM on January 10, 2019

I kind of feel like given what we have as Leonardo's corpus of works, it's more likely than not that this is yet another half-finished painting that he stopped working on once he moved on to 10,000 other projects that he also didn't finish. That was pretty much his pattern for most of his life, and it's why we only have around a dozen completed paintings of his, whereas Raphael, for example, has more than 100 extant paintings despite dying in his 30s. We already have a number of half-or-less-finished works of Leonardo's, and I don't really see why anyone should think this isn't another one of them that just had someone else fill in the rest at some point in the 16th century.
posted by Copronymus at 11:29 AM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

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