The Most Expensive Painting In The World
Say the name Leonardo da Vinci to students over the age of ten here in Canada and many of them will know to whom you are referring. You may have to remind some of them that you are not referring to a certain Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, but to a real historical person. Genius. Artist. Inventor. Scientist. Engineer. A multiple of titles have been ascribed to him. The epitome of Renaissance humanist ideal, he exemplifies the ultimate polymath of the Renaissance period. Art historian Helen Gardner referred to him as an individual of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination”(Gardner, 1926). While he appears to us as superhuman, the man himself seems mysterious and remote. As is the history around the painting known as “Salvator Mundi” (Saviour of the World) that recently appeared and was sold at auction by Christies’ of London for a massive $450.3 million dollars.
The most expensive work of art in history!
“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”
Leonardo da Vinci
Only 15 paintings have been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. This is a small number considering the enormity of his works.
A mystery: Originally said to be painted for King Louis XII of France in the early 1500 the painting Salvator Mundi remained in the French Royal Family until it accompanied Queen Henrietty to England as she became the bride of Charles I. In 1763, while still a part of the English Royal Family’s art collection, it goes missing! The painting mysteriously appears in 1958 at an auction at Southeby’s London, attributed to another artist and is sold for £45. A full 47 years later the painting turns up in an estate sale and is bought for a paltry $10,000. Alexander Parish and a small consortium had the painting authenticated as a genuine da Vinci and sold it to a businessman Yves Bouvier for $75-80 million in 2013. Within a year, Bouvier sells it to the Russian billionaire Dimytri Rybolovlev for a cool $125.7 million. Rybolovlev puts the painting up for sale in 2017 at Christies’ where it fetches an astronomical price.
Engaging Learners With Cognitive Tools
This story has all the hallmarks of a great investigation for middle school or high school students. I envision this to be a unit shaped with tools of Romantic Understanding and Philosophic Understanding. (Not familiar with Kinds of Understanding and Imaginative Education? Read this post.) The topic is full of mystery, creativity, power and ingenuity. The heroic qualities will depend on that direction of your investigation.
Students could become art investigators tracing the history of the painting’s origin and the artist. Who owned it? Why did it disappear? Where has it been? Why bring out now? What makes it a masterpiece worth so much money? Certainly investigating the properties of the painting is intriguing. What is so special about this painting? Does it involve the mathematics and geometry that Da Vinci often used in his art? Furthermore why is art so expensive and some pictures worth astronomical prices? One could also delve into what it means to be a genius.
Other areas of interest could spin off into the whole nature of art. While humanoids like Neanderthals did make jewelry, only Homo sapiens explored and developed the form. They literally invented painting, carving, sculpting, and architecture. It is not exactly clear why they went into caves* to paint pictures of animals. Was it spiritual, religious or ritual? Is it the exploration of communication for unknown others? The cave art in France, Spain, Africa and Australia display the exploration of art forms and its development.
The Great Mystery: Why Art?
This investigation has so many cognitive tools connected to it. Extreme limits of experience and reality, connections to human hopes, fears and passions, and definitely a story or narrative: Why art? In prehistoric times, art does not provide food or material gain, but it does certainly explore an avenue of culture. Being a human innovation, it must have a reason for existing and taking such a central place in our cultural development.
Now that’s a story worth discovering.
Gardener, H. (1926). Art through the Ages: An Introduction to Its History and Significance. New York: Harcourt, Brace.