Oriel student unveils history of Leonardo Da Vinci Salvator Mundi

15 Jan 2012

The discovery of the Salvator Mundi

Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi. The acclaimed exhibition currently at the National Gallery, London, Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, presents to the world for the first time a newly discovered painting by the Renaissance master. The Salvator Mundi [Saviour of the World] was uncovered by New York art historian Dr. Robert Simon, who orchestrated a careful scientific analysis and restoration of the painting. It was brought to London at the invitation of Dr. Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery and formerly Keeper of the Department of Western Art at the Ashmolean Museum, where it was compared to the gallery’s Virgin of the Rocks, and appraised by a panel of the foremost international Leonardo scholars. The painting was discovered in the US, but had been formerly in the famous collection of Sir Francis Cook at Richmond, London, who had in turn purchased it in 1900 from the connoisseur Sir John Charles Robinson, Surveyor of H. M. Queen Victoria’s Pictures, and the first Superintendent of the art collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Dr. Simon had a hunch the painting had been in Britain for some time before the nineteenth century; an etching of the painting by the seventeenth-century Bohemian artist Wenceslaus Hollar suggested a connection with the collection of his patron, the Earl of Arundel. He enlisted the help of Oriel graduate student Margaret Dalivalle to undertake research into the painting’s earlier provenance. Her Oxford M.St. in the History of Art [Italian Renaissance] was supervised by Professor Martin Kemp, the leading Leonardo scholar, and her subsequent doctoral research yielded intimate knowledge of seventeenth-century English art collections and their documentation. (Fig. 1. Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi. Oil on panel, 65.6 x 45.4 cm.
 Private Collection. Copyright 2011 Salvator Mundi LLC. Photograph: Tim Nighswander/Imaging4Art)

Oriel student researches the history of the painting

Dr. Margaret Dalivalle with a seventeenth-century portrait of King Charles II, private collection Margaret Dalivalle (DPhil History of Art) sifted through documents in the Duke Humfrey Library in Oxford, the British Library, the House of Lords Archive, and was privileged to be granted access to unpublished inventories of the Royal Collection in the private office of the Surveyor of H. M. The Queen’s Pictures at York House, St. James’ Palace.  It was there she discovered a previously unknown record of the Salvator Mundi in the collection of King Charles II, and was able to trace the painting backwards in time to the collection of Queen Henrietta Maria, and forward to that of Sir Charles Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, and an ancestor of the present Prime Minister’s wife, Samantha Cameron. In the process she uncovered a scintillating tale of the theft of the painting on the eve of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 amid a smash-and-grab in Whitehall Palace.
Dr Dalivalle said: “It has been an enormous privilege to be part of this historic discovery, to witness at first hand the processes that surround the authentication of such an important work of art, and to deploy my arcane research skills in a ‘real-time’ project. Working with a team of international experts has greatly enhanced my learning experience, and the topic fed directly into my doctoral research here at Oxford.  It has been extraordinarily fortuitous that the painting was included in the National Gallery exhibition, and my research cited in the catalogue just as I completed my doctorate. I have also been fascinated to watch the reaction in the media as the painting was announced to the world, and to observe the beginnings of the inevitable mythologizing that attaches to paintings by Leonardo”. (Fig. 2. Dr. Margaret Dalivalle with a seventeenth-century portrait of King Charles II, private collection).

Dr. Margaret Dalivalle’s research will be published in Robert Simon (ed.) The Lost Christ of Leonardo (Yale University Press, forthcoming, 2012). Her doctoral thesis, ‘“Borrowed comlinesse”: Copying from pictures in seventeenth-century England’, completed in 2011, was supervised by Dr. Susan Foister, Deputy Director, National Gallery, London.

Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan
Until 5 February 2012