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The world is watching

After witnessing centuries of life in the courts of kings, what would Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi now make of our digital world? A film by the world-renowned portrait photographer Nadav Kander

More than 20,000 people from all walks of life have come to gaze at Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi. After centuries in the hands of royal and private owners, its return to the public consciousness has resulted in queues wrapping around Christie’s exhibition spaces in London, Hong Kong, San Francisco and now in New York.

The experience of setting eyes on a work described as the ‘Divine Mona Lisa’ — one of fewer than 20 paintings acknowledged as being from the Renaissance master’s hand — is one that has moved people in many different ways, with those experiences being shared myriad times via social media.

But what if the tables were turned and the Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World) could share with us what he has seen these last few weeks? Having witnessed the most intimate details in the lives of successive French and English kings, what would the figure of Christ, depicted holding the well-being of the world in the palm of his left hand, now make of us?

More than 500 years on from when Leonardo created his resolutely human image of Christ, ours is an age defined by social media and the desire to snap and share

It is comforting to think that his perspective might be shaped by the expressions of awe, wonder, joy and deep contemplation in the faces of those who have returned his gaze.

More than 500 years on from when Leonardo set to work on his resolutely human image of Christ, ours is a digital age defined by the desire to snap and share. You only need to visit the Louvre and join the crowds jostling for a glimpse of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous work, the Mona Lisa, to see this social behaviour in action.

Working with the world-renowned portrait photographer Nadav Kander, it was decided to honour the significance of Salvator Mundi  — the greatest artistic rediscovery of the last 100 years — by turning the tables and documenting its profound effect on those looking and pointing their camera phones.

Within the beautifully lit Christie’s exhibition space in Rockefeller Center, a camera was set up beneath the Salvator Mundi  to record a video portrait of those who came to spend time with it. Using the wide range of responses to the masterpiece, a single piece of film has been created that shows the divine moment of connection between this powerful, mysterious, enigmatic portrayal of Christ and those who have felt compelled to observe it.

The film is cut to four minutes and 14 seconds to reflect the fact that in his painting, Leonardo presents Christ as he is characterised in the Gospel of John 4:14: ‘And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the World.’ 

You too can discover why this painting has made such an impression on those who have studied it. Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi  is on view to the public at Christie’s in New York on Saturday 11 November (10am-5pm); Sunday 12 November (1pm-5pm); Monday 13 November (10am-5pm), Tuesday 14 November (10am-5pm); and Wednesday 15 November (10 am-12pm). It will then be offered at auction in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale  on 15 November.