You know an exhibition is important when...

November 12 2011

...Brian Sewell reviews it in two parts, over two days! Part one here, and part two here. Sewell is always at his best when he doesn't like something, which is often. So the review of 'Leonardo' is a little... loose. Obviously, he likes it, and for its curator, Luke Syson would:

...honour him with a life peerage; his impending departure for New York is a loss to the nation.

Hear hear to that. Inevitably, Sewell finds something not to like in the show, and it is, you guessed it, the Salvator Mundi:

In what is essentially a scholarly and didactic exhibition that encourages the visitor to make comparisons and study the relationship of paintings with preliminary drawings, I am not entirely happy to see included and supported the newly rediscovered and identified Salvator Mundi. The cracking of the panel with associated losses of paint, aggressive over-cleaning and abrasion over the whole surface are all acknowledged, and I must ask at what point does a ruined painting heavily restored cease to be original? This is a wreck now so ill-defined, so smudged and fudged that glutinous gravy seems to have been the medium of its restoration. The hand raised in blessing, the associated drapery and some residuary details of hair and clothing, all suggest that this may once have been by Leonardo, but what we see now was formerly subcutaneous. That there is no revision or reinvention of the iconography also rouses my suspicion.

Can this ghostly, ghastly and blind-eyed face really be the invention of the same aesthetic mind as the melancholy Christ of the Last Supper? It would have been extremely useful to have had at hand a severe technical examination of this panel so that we know precisely the extent of past damage and present restoration; without this, its gushing acceptance as genuine must seem gullible.

He's over-egging it here - the condition is not that bad. It's interesting to note that Salvator Mundi has found immeasurably less favour amongst journalists than art historians. Barely a review has been published in England in which a journalist has not cast doubt on the picture. What is it about the discovery that the hacks don't like?

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