Worldwide Church of God

…and another thing  by John Stettaford

As I am writing this I have before me a picture of an oil painting. It’s not something I would want on my wall, which is probably just as well since it was sold earlier in November for £341 million. The experts now say that it is almost certainly the original of 20 copies made of the same painting at the time by students of the master; this is how they learned their craft back then, by copying the colour, the brush strokes, the style of their teacher. It’s “The Saviour of the World” reputedly originally painted by Leonardo da Vinci back somewhere around 1510.

It’s tiny for a renaissance masterpiece, barely 18 inches by 28 inches tall, painted on a walnut panel. Yes, the experts now agree that it was “almost certainly” painted by Leonardo, but it has been repaired, restored, over-painted and touched up so much that, really, not much of the original remains.

Leonardo perfected the technique of sfumato, which means ‘smokey’ and is emblematic of a softer, slightly blurred, vaguer style—a revolt, reaction or development from the earlier precision style of previous centuries. This too, is seen as something which smacks at authenticity, although modern copyists have been able to reproduce this style. Then the paints and their pigments are ‘right’ for the artist and the time.

But then Leonardo was a scientist too, credited with inventing the concept of submarine and helicopter. And the orb in the picture as painted lacks his scientific insight into how an image would be distorted seen through solid glass.

Back in 1958 the painting sold for £45. The experts (probably some of the same experts!) didn’t rate it as Leonardo’s work. And there remain experts who disagree that it should be credited to his genius and brush. “I’m not a believer that this is a real Leonardo,” gushed Professor Charles Hope, a renaissance painting expert. “I think it’s exceptionally boring, and when you see it hanging next to some real Leonardos, it doesn’t look good. I wouldn’t want it hanging on my wall. … The world is filled with near-Leonardos.”

Real or not, it is an authentic renaissance portrait, a male dressed in contemporaneous clothing and with the long hair and ringlets favoured at the time. Whoever painted it had made Christ into his image, an image that would ‘fit’, resonate with, those of his time looking at it.

We don’t know who bought it; obviously someone with too much money sitting idly in the bank. I wouldn’t be tempted to buy it, as a painting, even for that £45 back in 1958 (worth about £925 today in our debased currency). Not even as an investment. The speculation is that come its next auction appearance, already it would be knocked down at around double the price. Already its worth $1m a square inch, and, frankly, all this proves once again that the art market is out of control and doesn’t reflect the real value of most of the paintings that come up for sale.

It might sound a bit po-faced and snooty, looking at this picture, but we need to realise as Christians we can stand apart from all this hubris. Christ is the saviour of the world, and we are permitted to know the real him, not a painted portrait, to call him friend and brother, and above all to realise that we are at one with him, dwelling as he does within us through the Holy Spirit.

That’s the real value, the exalted worth which is the only one of true value. The fate of that painting is probably to be locked away in a humid-controlled, temperature controlled vault somewhere, where its owner can gaze on it in solitary isolation. Our God, in contrast, is to be shared, to become, is already indeed, the real and only Saviour of the world.

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