Salvator Mundi
oil on panel
21 1⁄4 x 15 1⁄2 in. (53.9 x 39.4 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 13 December 1996, lot 349, as 'Attributed to Alvise Vivarini'.
with Edmondo di Robilant, London, where acquired by the present owner in March 2011.

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Lot Essay

Although the tradition of depicting Christ in half-length was not new, Alvise Vivarini’s representation of the Salvator Mundi, the ‘Saviour of the World’, was unique in Venice at this point in the 1480s, predating Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi probably by more than a decade.

Holding a wooden cross in his left hand as he raises his right in benediction, Christ is portrayed as resolutely human, facing frontally in an immediate and almost visceral interaction with the viewer. The popularity of this mode of representation flourished in Italy in the fifteenth century, with one of the earliest influences deriving from northern Europe in Jan van Eyck’s Holy Face (now lost, the most faithful copy held in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin). The intense religious devotion that these images inspired was evidently in the first instance triggered by what was believed to be their physical authenticity, either as reliable portrait likenesses of Christ, or – in the case of the Veil of Saint Veronica – as a literally imprinted record of his features.

The present composition relates to two other works by Alvise: one in the church of San Giovanni in Bragora, which, through documents, can be dated to at least 1494 and includes slight differences, such as the omission of Christ’s left hand; and another in the Pinacoteca di Brera, dated to 1498, in which Christ is depicted in a three-quarter view to his right. A version of the present composition by Jacopo da Valenza – believed to have been an assistant in Alvise’s workshop – signed and dated 1487 (fig. 1; Bergamo, Accademia Carrara), suggests to Antonio Mazzotta, to whom we are grateful, that the present picture could well pre-date 1487, noting a more strictly Antonellesque appearance than that in the version in Bragora (private correspondence, April 2022).

Restoration of the present picture has revealed numerous pentimenti, including: modifications to Christ’s painted right hand held in benediction, as well as a completely different hand previously located to the right of Christ’s face; changes to the drawing of Christ’s left hand holding the cross; and an adjustment to the pupil of his left eye, a pentimento also shared by the picture in Bragora.

We are grateful to Professors Peter Humfrey and John Steer for endorsing the attribution after first-hand inspection.

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