On Saturday, January 16, 2020, Italian police found a 500-year-old copy of Leonardo da Vinci's painting known as "Salvator Mundi" (Savior of the World) in a Naples apartment. They returned it to the Museum of San Domenico Maggiore (Doma Museum). The museum did not even suspect that it had been stolen since the room it was stored was close three months due to the coronavirus pandemic. On the same day, late in the evening, officers arrested the 36-year-old apartment owner on suspicion of receiving stolen goods after this priceless work of art was found in his bedroom closet.

Naples prosecutor Giovanni Melillo told the AFP news agency that "the painting was found on Saturday thanks to a brilliant and diligent police operation."

The real author of the picture

It is believed that the painting was painted in the late 1510s by one of Da Vinci's students. But to date, there is no reliable information about who exactly created this "Salvator Mundi." In the art world, several hypotheses are put forward about the painter's personality, with most of the opinions attributing the authorship of the painting to one of the Renaissance master's students Girolamo Alibrandi. It is believed that Salvator Mundi was painted in Rome before being brought to Naples by envoy and advisor to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V Giovanni Antonio Muscettola.

The uniqueness of Salvator Mundi

This copy of Da Vinci's work became the most expensive painting ever sold in the world in November 2017, when an unknown buyer bought it at Christie's in New York for $450.3 million, including auction house premium. The auction house would not reveal the buyer's name or his/her identity to date, and even the region from which he (or she) came.

Some define the painting itself as a religious analog of Mona Lisa, Leonardo's most famous work. Other people believe Salvator Mundi represents Da Vinci's long-lost painting of Jesus Christ, robed in rich reds and blues offering a blessing to the viewer, commissioned by King Louis XII of France, who was known to invite Da Vinci to be his court painter over 500 years ago.

It is also known that painting has been in a private collection for a long time, beginning with 17th century King Charles of England. Then the painting disappeared right up to the 20th century, after its last known owner, the Duke of Buckingham's bastard son, sold it at auction.

Salvator Mundi has not been seen in public since its record-breaking sale at the end of 2017. Besides, some experts doubt the authenticity of the found painting. The police are currently investigating how the painting was stolen since they found no signs of a break-in.

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