Salvator Mundi

IMG_1870 2On Wednesday morning I met Christ on my way to work.  If you want to catch him, he is currently at Christie’s auction house in New York City until Wednesday, November 15th at noon.  After that no one knows where he will go.  Stop by if you have a chance.

Never in my life has my breath been taken away quite like it was when I walked into the darkened gallery at Christie’s to see Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of Christ, known as Salvator Mundi.

Salvator Mundi is one of fewer than twenty extant paintings believed to be by Leonardo’s hand.  It is currently privately owned.   When it goes on the auction block on Wednesday, it is likely to remain in private hands.  Its projected price is far beyond what most museums can afford.  So, unless someone buys it and donates it or loans it to a museum, it will disappear from public view for the foreseeable future.  

The enigmatic and slightly blurred image of Christ emerging out of darkness drew me in. Light shines from the upper left corner of the painting over Christ’s face and hands, pulling the viewer close and leaving the right side of his face in shadow.  His eyes are a soft brown, exuding warmth and kindness.  They are slightly blurred, making them hard to see.  One strains to bring them into focus.  

Christ’s head is framed by long curling hair.  He has a high brow and long regal nose that is out of proportion to the rest of his face.  His mouth is small and he is not quite smiling.  It looks like there is a light beard on his chin.  Again, the face has a gauzy finish, which has the effect of drawing the viewer in as one’s eyes try to sharpen the image and see Christ’s face.

One of Christ’s hands is blessing the viewer.  The hand is well defined and in sharp focus.  It looks as if it is about to reach outside of the bounds of the painting beyond the frame and touch the viewer.  The contrast between the face and the hand offering the blessing leaves one not quite sure where to look—into the hazy distant eyes or at the hand reaching towards the viewer.   One’s eyes dance over the painting bringing Christ to life.

In his other hand, Christ casually holds a crystal orb, symbolizing the world.   He is pulling it back slightly away from the viewer, as if to protect it.  Although translucent, the orb has weight and heft.  Christ’s palm and sumptuous robe are visible through the sphere.

Salvator Mundi is a reference to 1 John 4:14, “And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.”  

As Christ serenely blesses the viewer, he gently holds the world in his hand, as if to say, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “all will be well.”

Moved and reassured by my encounter with Christ, I made my way to the office.  

Published by Rob Radtke

President & CEO, Episcopal Relief & Development, husband, father, friend, traveler, reader, New Yorker.

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