[NEWS] Police recover 500-year-old stolen copy of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi

January 21, 2021

The Naples Salvator Mundi, attributed to a follower of Leonardo, Photograph:  SAN DOMENICO MAGGIORE, NAPLES

A 16th-century copy of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," the world's most expensive painting, has been discovered in an apartment on the outskirts of the southern Italian city, police said on Tuesday. It was stolen from a Naples church during the pandemic without the priests even realising it was gone. Police did not specify when the painting had been stolen, though the Naples museum reported being in possession of the work as recently as January 2020, when it was returned from Rome.


The artwork, which was likely painted by one of the Renaissance master's students, was discovered at an apartment during a search in the Italian city, according to a police statement. Police chief Alfredo Fabbrocini said the apartment owner was detained after he offered a “less than credible” explanation that he had “casually” bought it at a market. The person who allegedly seized the canvas has been taken into police custody under suspicion of receiving stolen goods, according to a police statement.


The portrait was modeled on Leonardo's famed depiction of Christ with one hand raised in blessing and the other holding a crystal orb. The painting was sold for a record $450 million at a Christie’s auction in 2017. The San Domenico basilica says the painting was probably made during the artist's lifetime by his students and assistants. The painting was set to be unveiled in 2018 at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, but the exhibition was delayed indefinitely and the work hasn’t been seen in public since.


There are around 20 surviving copies of Salvator Mundi attributed to Leonardo’s workshop. The Naples copy, which dates to the 1510s, was brought the city from Rome by an envoy to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, as a gift to the museum’s Hall of Liturgical Objects, according to the museum’s website. 


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