The suspicious hands of the Savior of the World

Leonardo DA VINCI / Workshop (Salai with the help of Boltraffio). Christ as the Savior of the world. Around 1506/8 – 1513

The question of the authorship of The Savior of the World haunts specialists in the art of the Italian Renaissance and the work of Leonardo da Vinci. His version of the origin of the most expensive painting in the world was proposed in an essay published in the magazine ArtWatch UK by the French expert on Leonardo’s work, art critic Jacques Franck.

Supporting his opinion by stylistic comparison of fragments (including radiographs) of the painting with the reference works of Leonardo and his students, mainly Salai and Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, who were the main figures of his studio in the mid-1500s – early 1510s, Frank states that the version of Savior of the World, originating from the Frederick Cook collection and sold in 2017 for $ 450 million, is Leonardo, that is, a work created in Leonardo’s workshop, probably based on his original painting and possibly under his control.

Frank is mainly prompted to this conclusion by the outlines of the blessing hand of Christ, the ratio of the foreshortening of the fingers and the palm of which is anatomically inaccurate, as well as the schematic, rhythmic depiction of the curls of the Savior’s hair. The blessing gesture of Jesus Christ is unlikely from an anatomical point of view. With the full raising of the first two fingers of the hand as they are shown in the picture, the position of the remaining fingers in the foreshortening in which they are shown is practically impossible, he asserts. In addition, the expert considers the detailed image of the nails on the blessing hand to be atypical for Leonardo.

The presence of pentimento (several variants of one image that have been painted over) does not convince the specialist either. In his opinion, both positions of the finger were performed during one painting session, and not sequentially, as previously thought, therefore, we are not facing the result of a change in the artist’s creative intention. He believes that these are two options left by the first author of the work for the subsequent selection of the most successful of them by the retoucher who put the final touches on the image.

According to Frank, based on the method of constructing the composition, the presence of simplified compilation elements in foreshortenings, folds of draperies, and other fragments of the image of the figure of Christ, the author of the original image, most likely, could be one of the closest pupils of Leonardo of the late period of his work, Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno also known as Salai.

It was he who could not choose the best option from the two angles of the thumb of the blessing hand. Giovanni Boltraffio, who was one of the most talented students of da Vinci, finished the work.

Jacques Frank’s point of view is fully supported by the publisher of the magazine Macle Daley, who stated that no one took anatomy as seriously as Leonardo.


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