In the complex documentary assemblage that accompanied the record sale of the ‘Salvator Mundi’ attributed to Leonardo da Vinci bought for $450 million by Louvre Abu Dhabi, Christie’s emphasized the fact that it was the last work of the Renaissance Master still in private hands. Indeed, most of Leonardo’s 20 paintings known to exist  are held by the world’s leading museums, however, according to Martin Kemp, emeritus professor of the history of art at the University of Oxford and Leonardo’s scholar, two of them are not.

Not all scholars agree on the attribution of the two modest size paintings of a similar subject, both called ‘Madonna of the Yarnwinder‘ for the object held by Jesus, but, in 2011, after studying both of them with infra-red reflectography and x-rays to examine the underdrawings, Kemp concluded that the pictures evolved side by side with Leonardo’s hand involved at every stage.

The first Yarnwinder is known as ‘Lansdowne Madonna‘ – from the name of the English noble family who owned it in the XVIII and XIX centuries – is thought to have been commissioned by Florimond Robertet, outstanding patron of the arts, before Leonardo left Milan in 1499. It was last sold, in 1999, by Wildenstein & Co. to an unknown American private collector.

The other painting, known as ‘Buccleuch Madonna‘, was acquired by the family of the Duke of Buccleuch over 250 years ago, but it was lent to the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh in 2009, after being stolen in 2003 and recovered four years later.

According to Philip Mould, leading art dealer and broadcaster, if one of the two ‘Madonna of the Yarnwinder’ was to go on the market now and it was “fully ascribable to Leonardo”, it would probably become the first $1 billion sale.

Ilona Catani Scarlett

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