When Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World) came under the hammer at a Christie’s sale in November 2017 for a whopping $450 million — becoming the most expensive artwork ever sold at an auction — it raised eyebrows. Though considered one of the last known Da Vinci paintings in private hands, its authenticity was reportedly questionable. Sold to Saudi Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al-Saud, the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, a licensed partner of the Louvre Museum in Paris, announced that the work will be exhibited at the museum in September 2018 but the unveiling was cancelled.
Now there is speculation that the artwork is missing. Interestingly though, this isn’t the first time that the oil painting that depicts Christ as the saviour of the world is believed to have vanished — thought to have been destroyed, no one knew the whereabouts of the painting from the middle of the 18th century to 1900, when it was acquired by Sir Charles Robinson as a work by Bernardino Luini, one of Da Vinci’s studio assistants. Subsequently, it reportedly appeared at a Sotheby’s auction in 1958.
Here are some other masterpieces that went missing in the last century:
Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb
Also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, one of Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’s 12 oak panels installed at St Bavo Cathedral in Ghent was stolen in 1934. One panel, depicting St John the Baptist, was found in the luggage claim of a train station in Belgium, and for the second panel that features the righteous judges — that is still missing — the thief demanded a ransom of one million Belgian francs. The masterpiece by the Flemish painters has been part of a crime on more than ten occasions. Among others, in 1794 some of its panels were sent to Louvre, after Ghent was captured by Napoleon troops but returned to Belgium after the
Battle of Waterloo. During World War II it was taken by Hitler to the Neuschwanstein Castle and then the Altaussee salt mines, only to come back to Ghent after the war was over.
Caravaggio’s Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence
More than 50 years after it was stolen in 1969, in 2018 Italy reportedly reopened investigations probing the theft of Caravaggio’s masterpiece Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence. It has been listed by the FBI as among the world’s top 10 art crimes. Approximately measuring six square metres, the work estimated at $20 million was hanging at the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, when it was cut from its frame. It was believed to have been stolen by the local Sicilian mafia and at one point even rumoured to have been destroyed by rats and pigs while it was being kept hidden. Currently the chapel has a replica.
The Gardner Museum Heist
In March 1990, two thieves entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and in less than two hours left with 13 artworks. Among the lost works are Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, believed to be the artist’s only seascape painting, and his A lady and Gentleman in Black. The thieves also ran away with Edouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni, which was painted towards the end of his life, featuring an unknown gentleman sitting on a terrace, and Johannes Vermeer’s The Concert, painted between 1663 and 1666, which shows a man and a woman performing music. The works are still missing, and carry a $10 million award for recovery.
Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man
Considered by some as the most important painting that went missing during World War II, Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man was stolen by the Nazis from Poland from the collection of Prince Czartoryski. While there is no consensus, some believe that the painting is a self-portrait by the Renaissance master, as the features are similar to those in his self-portrait in the fresco The School of Athens in the Raphael Rooms at the Vatican Museum.
The Paris Museum of Modern Art Heist
In 2010, five paintings were stolen from the Paris Museum of Modern Art. While the perpetrator was arrested, the artworks are still missing. The lost works include Pablo Picasso’s The Pigeon with Green Peas, Henri Matisse’s Pastoral, Amedeo Modigliani’s Woman with Fan and Fernand Leger’s Still Life with Candlestick.