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The Da Vinci in the DMA Basement

by Jerome Weeks 30 Jul 2012 1:58 PM

And it’ll cost only $200 million for the rest of us to see it.


max and jesus

Maxwell Anderson is the one on the left.

Reportedly, for some time now, DMA director Maxwell Anderson has been inviting the area’s biggest art buyers/donors to take a peek at Christ as Salvator Mundi (Jesus as Savior of the World) currently residing at the museum. It’s  a 15th century painting-on-a-wood-panel that’s been badly treated over the centuries (over-painted, over-cleaned) but it’s still getting a lot of attention because, after all these years, it was recently re-attributed to Leonardo da Vinci and was included in London’s National Gallery exhibition, “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan.”

Anderson clearly sees this is as Dallas’ long-shot chance — a Hail Mary pass? — at owning a big-name Old Master, as reported in Art in America. The new museum director is not talking, but over on FrontRow, Peter Simek asks the $200 million question: Should the DMA spend $200 mill on a da Vinci?

Peter doesn’t go into the pros and cons (wait — there are cons?), but the Art in America article does: The DMA would be paying an eye-popping, record-breaking (museum purchase) price for, as mentioned, a ‘used’ da Vinci (its condition is a chief reason the painting’s attribution has been doubted over the years). The work is currently in the hands of a “group of unidentified dealers,” and the fact that Salvator Mundi has come to Dallas and is spending this much time here would seem to indicate the dealers are not finding buyers elsewhere. Certainly not buyers willing to pony up that chunk of change.

But Dallas likes to think big, no? As does Anderson (it doesn’t hurt that there’s only one  other da Vinci on view in all of America — at the National Gallery in DC).

Yet the fact that these fundraising visits at the DMA have been whispered about for weeks in Dallas art circles indicates something else: It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. I could be wrong. It’s worth noting: $200 million could buy the DMA another entire building.

But then, any new building probably wouldn’t come with the worldwide, instant name-recognition a da Vinci has — no matter how badly cleaned.