At time of writing, Leonardo da Vinci’s long-lost Salvator Mundi had just been auctioned off for USD450.3 million, the highest price ever paid for any work of art at an auction. The price, which includes the auction house premium, more than doubled what was paid for Pablo Picasso’s Women of Algiers (Version O), which sold for USD179.4 million, and Amedeo Modigliani’s Reclining Nude (USD170.4 million).
It is likely that the mere fact it is a Leonardo added a substantial premium to the price – only around 15 paintings by the great Renaissance polymath have survived. Originally painted for King Louis XII of France in 1506-13, Salvator Mundi passed through different owners before it disappeared for nearly 150 years. It reappeared in the early 20th century but was attributed to a follower of Leonardo. It was sold in an auction in 1958 for GBP45 and disappeared again, before resurfacing at another auction in 2005. Six years later, after research and authentication by the world’s leading Leonardo experts, Salvator Mundi was confirmed as the real thing.
Here’s the thing: Salvator Mundi is the only Leonardo painting in private hands and, having been missing for much of its existence, hopefully it won’t make another long-term disappearance after this. Like all its siblings, it deserves the chance to tell its story to all who wish to share it.
On another note, no one, certainly, will pay millions for Biplab Hazra’s Hell is Here, which recently won this year’s Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards. Taken in West Bengal, it shows an elephant calf and its mother fleeing a mob throwing flaming tar balls and crackers at them. The back of the calf seems to be on fire, its mouth opened in a silent scream. According to Hazra, a wildlife photographer in West Bengal, this treatment of elephants is routine, as human expansion increasingly encroach into the animal’s habitats. Not pictured, however, are the humans whose lives and property have been damaged by wandering elephants driven out of their usual feeding grounds. That the relevant authorities have made no effort to put an end to this human-elephant conflict has only compounded the crisis.
There is nothing that links Salvator Mundi with Hell is Here, but when you take put them together with the news that the globe’s richest one per cent owns more than half the world’s wealth, you begin to see how fractured our world has become. On the one end, an anonymous buyer pays more than USD450 million for a painting that might never see light of day again; on the other, human and elephants are in conflict over increasingly scarce resources.
As 2017 ends and 2018 dawns, one cannot help but wonder how things will turn out. Can we be optimistic that they will be better? Or will they get even worse?