Stolen Copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi From the 15th Century Recovered - Before Anyone Knew It Was Missing

The world’s most expensive painting to sell at auction, Salvator Mundi’s whereabouts are still not known. Sold for a record-breaking US$450m at a Christie’s New York sale in 2017, the artwork by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci was said to be kept on a Saudi Prince’s superyacht. 

Adding to the phenomenal work’s saga is a stolen copy that had been accidentally recovered by Italian police in a Naples apartment during a search in the city last week. The 500-year-old work was kept in a church’s museum in Naples, which had been closed for over three months due to the pandemic. There had been no report of the painting missing, prior to the operation, adding a veil of mystery to the incident.


 A recovered copy of Salvator Mundi, believed to be painted by Leonardo's student Girolamo Alibrandi 


Italian police found the stolen copy in a Naples apartment


The apartment’s 36-year-old owner was taken into custody on suspicion of receiving stolen goods. The police did not release details on the suspect’s name or when and how the painting was stolen. The representative of the museum had no idea that the painting was missing prior to this and said the museum was in possession of it in January 2020, after it was showcased at the “Leonardo in Rome” exhibition in the Italian capital.

The Leonardo painting (circa 1500) depicts Christ raising one hand in blessing, while in the other hand holding a crystal orb. The present replica is one of the around 30 extant copies of the famed Salvator Mundi. It is owned by the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, and said to be executed in the early 15th century, by the master’s student Girolamo Alibrandi. It is believed that the painting was brought to Naples by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V’s envoy from Rome. 


Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) | Salvator Mundi, circa 1500

Sold for a record-breaking US$450m at Christie’s New York, November 2017


A side-by-side comparison of the two paintings


The two paintings share a very similar composition, the Naples version replicates the details such as the blessing hands and the orb, but depicts Christ in a deep-red tunic. There is also a slight difference in the position of the raised fingers. The curls of Christ’s hair, and more noticeably, his facial features are rendered quite differently as well. 

As for the famed Salvator Mundi, some said that the painting might have been a work by another student of Leonado’s, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio instead. The ongoing debate on the painting’s attribution, current location, ownership, and whether or not it will be exhibited in Louvre Abu Dhabi is likely to carry on for quite some time, until it resurfaces again.