Italian police have recovered a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi that was stolen from a basilica museum in Naples last year. Likely painted by one of the Renaissance master’s students, the 500-year-old work was discovered in an apartment only a few miles from the Museum of San Domenico Maggiore. 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 Leonardo painting (ca. 1500) depicts Christ raising one hand in blessing, while in the other hand holding a crystal orb. In 2017, the painting became the most expensive work ever sold at auction, fetching $450.3 million from an anonymous bidder who was later linked to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. The painting, whose attribution has been contested by many experts, disappeared soon after.
Even before the record-breaking sale, art historians disagreed over Salvator Mundi‘s author. Some maintain that the work, which first surfaced in 2005, was actually executed by a member of his studio. Salvator Mundi was omitted from the Louvre’s blockbuster da Vinci exhibition in 2019. The painting was set to be unveiled in 2018 at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, but the event was postponed by the Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism without explanation.
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. The copy briefly returned to Rome for the exhibition “Leonardo in Rome: Influences and Legacy,” where it underwent a restoration. Italian police said that the work was taken two years ago, though the museum has said that the painting was in its possession following the close of the Rome show in January 2020.