Salvator Mundi, Savior of the World
by Leonardo Da Vinci
This year, on November 15, Christie’s will offer Leonardo DaVinci’s lost painting, Salvator Mundi, Savior of the World, at auction. This enigmatic work of art has supposedly been “lost” for decades, that is, hidden, out of sight, in private collections, including that of England’s King Charles I (1600-1649); it disappeared (from 1763 to 1900), was purchased in 1958 for 45 pounds, and disappeared again until its dramatic unveiling by Christie’s in 2011.
That must have been when I saw it for the first time. One look and I ran from it. I covered my eyes and ran away.
Why? My initial impression, and it’s rather a burden, but every one of my first impressions have been spot on, my first impression was that I was looking at Jesus in a dress.
I still think so. Bear with me. I don’t think the artist meant it literally, though, clearly, to me, at least, the neckline is low, there is a suggestion of slight cleavage in the chest. The clothing is rich and richly decorated; Da Vinci used the luxurious lapis lazuli for Christ’s heavenly robes which are very much a departure from the simple cloth in which Jesus is usually depicted. And he is wearing two jewels in the center of his chest. Not typical for Christ but very Renaissance. These jewels seem to take on a deeper mystery, as though we could look into their depths and discover some truth. The Salvator Mundi was painted around the same time as The Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa has long been considered by some to be androgynous, and to be smiling at some secret shared with the artist.
We know that Da Vinci was what I like to call a Magdalena, that is, a member of the Priory of Sion, who believed in the idea that Jesus had not been celibate as the Catholic Church proclaims, but had married his apostle, Mary Magdalene and together they’d had a child, a daughter, Sarah, who continued the Sang Réal, or Royal Bloodline. The hexagon embroidery along Christ’s robe could be considered the Magdalena Rose or the Flower of Life in a continuous line, like the Bloodline itself, or, like some ancient replication of a human DNA strand, making Jesus truly the giver of life.
Did Da Vinci also paint the Salvator Mundi as a joining of the masculine and feminine forces of nature? Yin and yang?
An understanding of yin and yang can truly bring salvation to the world. How? As a macrobiotic person, I use yin and yang every day to keep healthy. The world may achieve salvation through health because healthy people do not want to destroy or make war.
How does yin and yang work? Energy moves in two ways: spiraling inward, yang; spiraling outward, yin. By controlling the balance of these two energies in the body, we can maintain or achieve health. The yin/yang symbol shows us the movements of this energy. Yin and yang complete the circle. Yin is always trying to become yang. Yang is always trying to become yin. This movement is shown by the tiny dot within each section. Within yin is always some yang. Within yang, a tiny bit of yin. Together, they achieve balance.
In the Salvator Mundi, DaVinci paints Jesus holding a crystal globe, representing the world, in his left hand. DaVinci scholar, Martin Kemp noted, “The Saviour literally holds the well-being of the world and its inhabitants in the palm of his hand.” Gods, both Christian and pagan, have throughout time held an orb in their hand as a symbol of their power and control over the world. However, we can clearly see a line dividing this orb into two parts, along the curve of his robe, yin and yang. Christ holds the ultimate power of yin and yang in his hand and he is offering this knowledge to the world.
According to Christie’s article about the painting, “Christ’s orb is an emblem of kingship as well as a symbol of the world itself…the tiny specks and inclusions that Leonardo has painstakingly reproduced in the orb indicate that it is meant to be made of rock crystal, the purest form of quartz, and widely believed in the Renaissance to possess formidable magical powers. Rock crystals cut in Antiquity had been set into reliquaries since the Middle Ages, giving the stone sacred associations. Therefore, the very substance of the globe, as well as the perfection of its regular and continuous spherical form, endows it with a nearly miraculous essence. “
We now know that crystal can hold information – the Superman crystal, so named after the crystals of knowledge in the movie Superman - a realized modern incarnation of the so-called mythical crystal ball that “tells all.” Crystal fascinated Da Vinci as a substance light could pass through without altering – “diaphanous bodies like glass or crystal produce the ‘same effect as though nothing intervened between the shaded object and the light that falls upon it.” The light, in this case, seems to emanate from the palm of Jesus. He holds the world and the light.
Jesus, especially as adopted by the hippie movement, has often been represented as a gentle, almost effeminate entity. Jesus taught Love. He has always had long, wavy hair. In this painting, I think his curls refer once again to spirals of energy. He does not have a halo. The light comes from him as it does from healthy people. I used to call it the “macro glow,” but it is really the glow of life, the power of our pulsing blood, and his. We know from the Shroud of Turin that Jesus was a perfectly proportioned, balanced human form, unlike the rest of us who are unevenly proportioned all over. His physical balance, coupled with eating and living simply, would have just about sealed his health and spiritual perfection.
Jesus most certainly, by his presence, must have projected a powerful energy. The power of this painting cannot be denied. Christ’s gentle, lighted face emerges from the darkness with an almost mesmerizing intensity, not a challenge, but a communication, a grip, a lock on us. We feel – I felt – the artist communicating with me through time, telling me everything all at once in a way only a painting can.
This time, I became immobilized. Yes! was all I could say. Yes!
©Patricia Goodwin, 2017
Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Her newest book is Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author.