I’m sharing my version in B&W for now, partly to save a bit of the mystery of the full colored version for my upcoming 3rd video on the Salvator Mundi, but also to sideline the people who argue that color differences (which only adversely affect the Dubai Salvator Mundi] are due to the lighting of the photograph, etc. Here, the focus is on the anatomical, perpectival, and modelling issues.
The controversy over the authenticity of the Salvator Mundi, ostensibly by Leonardo da Vinci, still rages. There are experts on both sides of the fence, arguing for and against it being 100% by Leonardo. My position since I first saw the restored Salvator Mundi several years ago was that Leonardo was far too skilled to have ever painted such a clumsy, awkward, and even cringe-worthy portrait.
Others are much, much more concerned about issues of the monetary value of the painting, its sales history, provenance, which institutions have shown the image or sold it, and who has endorsed it as authentic. I am only concerned with the art itself, and clearly there is something very fishy about it.
I’ve had some debates with experts on reddit, received some insulting comments on my videos, and even a veiled threat that if I continue to share my version of the Salvator Mundi, and argue what’s wrong with the official restored version, than the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia will come after me for devaluing his purchase. Don’t challenge the Christie’s attribution, I’ve been told. Well, I didn’t sell anything to Saudi royalty, and if there’s a problem with who the art authorities assign a painting to, artists should be able to have a say in it.
The mods on the art history group on reddit created a new rule out of the blue. Could be coincidence, but if I didn’t know better I might think it was custom made to suppress my content. I’d never seen it before, and suddenly it’s there and they removed a post in which I shared this image, even though it had over 100 up-votes and 30 comments.
This may come as a bit of a shock to a lot of people, but the art world is also for artists, and even visual artists who know how to draw and paint. Silencing me is supposed to be in the service of art history. The part where labeling a digital version a “restoration” is “bad art history” is a cheap shot, and a mere assertion. Mine is based on quite a lot of research, and the whole problem surrounding this painting is that artist’s opinions are not taken into consideration, and the skills and understanding of people who actually know how to draw and paint are discarded. Artists are experts on art, too.
UPDATE: Turns out I wasn’t being delusional of paranoid. The “art history” group on reddit created a new rule just to censor me. It was created minutes before they deleted my post, and they made a public announcement about it.
People responded specifically to defend my version of the Salvator Mundi. I gotta’ say, when people need to invent a rule just to shut me up and delete my art, I’m really flattered. People came to my defense, but to no avail. And then they banned me on top of it. I’ll do a separate post about this, because as flattering as it is, it also kinda’ sucks. I mean, normally you have to do something ostensibly wrong to be banned. I was just too threatening.
My version has come out better than I expected, but it’s also taken me a lot longer and kinda’ dragged me down in the process. If you know my art, I like to work from my imagination. This kind of exacting project, with all the restrictions, is trying for me. It has to look like the original cleaned painting, and like Jesus, and like it was done by Leonardo. It’s a tightrope act in the wind, and above surf. Inevitably it is stained with my own vision, but I’ve tried to keep that to a minimum, so that it represents my tastes and skill, but not my style. I think it’s safe to say I sunk a month into this, and the videos, and I haven’t made the third one yet.
What’s surprising me now about my version, is it looks like I superimposed a photo on the face or something, probably just because in comparison to Dianne Modestini’s restored version, mine is so realistic. In fact, I based mine off of a few different versions of the Salvator Mundi, and it’s the result of extensive digital painting. My Photoshop file surpassed 100 layers a long time ago. It still needs some work in the fine details.
Earlier, I digitally restored the “cleaned” but not retouched version of the Salvator Mundi: the first step in recreating it. Here is the result, if you didn’t see my earlier blog post:
Above, I’d only removed the cracks and filled the missing passages. There is very little interpretation, and I didn’t attempt to adjust it to what the original might have really looked like. The painting is so badly damaged, and warped, and missing layers of paint, that it is misleading. The left hand and the crystal or glass ball (lots of controversy here] is mostly missing.
The next step was to try to compensate for the misleading and missing parts, and this was a magnitude or two or three more difficult an assignment. For the first part, one only needs photo-editing skills. But for the second, you need to be able to draw and painting digitally in addition. And this is also relative to the physical painting. There are two kinds of restoration: one that is the equivalent of photo-editing (removing spots and filling cracks…), and the other requires one knows how to draw and paint realistically. Honestly, and this is a bit rough to say, but the Modestini restored Salvator Mundi looks precisely as if it were completed by someone who was an expert at the first kind of restoration, but had zero skill at drawing and painting, and especially in terms of rendering anatomy, perspective, foreshortening, modeling, and lighting and shading. There’s no apparent understanding of how to model something in three dimensions at all. It could be, however, that she is remarkably better than I am at those techniques, but was not allowed to interpret, in which case such skills could be largely irrelevant [there is, however, interpretation, and it didn’t go well].
The Salvator Mundi version that is held to be the 100% autograph Leonardo, curiously, is a very cropped version as compared to the other contenders, of which there are many, all of which are supposed to be based on a line drawing by the master. My full version includes the cropped out areas, which makes for a better and more convincing composition.
You may have noticed he has no right shoulder. I keep forgetting to put a hint of one in the background. I could touch up the hair and clothing endlessly. I’ll just give it all a few more sessions.
My original motive was just to do the face, and in order to show what it would look like if it were more logically symmetrical and internally coherent. And I just wanted to do it as a visual aid for my video. And then I thought, why not just do the whole thing? I’m pretty happy with the result, and now, because I’ve painted over virtually everything — and there are lots of changes based on other versions of the SM, and Leonardo’s work, including his preparatory fabric drawings — I consider it an original art project.
A bit of an aside, but most artists seem to work in one style. And I can do that a lot of the time, but have already moved through several styles, and I get bored easily. Another thing I like to do is projects that require whatever skills are necessary. These are a way for me to expand my horizons and skill set. In fact, all the weird Photoshop projects I’ve done over the years came in handy with this piece.
Stay tuned for the video, which will encapsulate the first two, crystalize my arguments, and showcase my final piece in color. And if you haven’t seen my first two, you can catch up on the story and how my understanding and involvement has evolved over time. They are also a bit creative, weird, experimental, and psychedelic. This has put off some people but pleasantly surprised others. In short, I can’t help making my videos about art into a bit of art themselves.
and part 2
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6 replies on “What did the Salvator Mundi really look like?”
I’m excited for your 3rd video and for you to complete this juggernaut of a project. It was a great idea to share the B/W version to showcase the sharpness of your restored version. All your previous work on faces, especially the eyes cannot be understated. I’m sure when these SMs, religious depictions of Christ were painted during their day, it was vital that the warmth and gaze of the Son of God draw you in… Amazing work.
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Thanks! Very astute observations. And your check is in the mail.
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Gah! Your version is SO much better. Can’t … stop … looking … back … and forth!
Version on the left: creepy androgynous zombie “Jesus.” Version on the right: any handsome young Italian man you might meet on the street and ask to model.
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Typical of today’s society – if you can’t find a way to argue against it or it displaces your pre-ordained narrative then you must be removed and the offending material banished so as not to contradict the masses. Quite sickening especially in light of how stunning and in depth your interpretation was.
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Thanks. Yeah, I’m especially fond of their presumed notion that I’m not providing intelligent enough discourse for a public reddit forum. I mean, I wasn’t banned for conduct, but for inferior content.