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Examination of Leonardo da Vinci's Artworks: A Dual Observation on Collection and Investment

By OGP Reporters / Members Contribute File Photos


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Shanghai Museum presents the grand exhibition "Dialogue: Leonardo da Vinci and Eastern Aesthetics - Renaissance Encounter", featuring 18 Renaissance art treasures and 18 masterpieces of ancient Chinese paintings, initiating a dialogue between Leonardo da Vinci and Eastern aesthetics. This exhibition showcases not only Leonardo da Vinci's oil paintings and manuscripts but also precious sketches by Michelangelo, alongside classical Chinese paintings. Through a unique comparative approach, the exhibition explores the fascinating fusion of Eastern and Western art, allowing audiences to appreciate the splendid collision between the Renaissance period and Eastern aesthetics.

Leonardo da Vinci is the most outstanding artist of the Renaissance period, a representative figure of humanism, a scholar, and one of the "three geniuses of the Renaissance" (the other two being Michelangelo and Raphael). His paintings organically combine scientific knowledge and artistic imagination, showcasing humanity's exploration and pursuit of nature and beauty. This interdisciplinary genius possessed an "unstoppable curiosity" and "extremely active creative imagination." His masterpieces such as the "Mona Lisa," "The Last Supper," and "Virgin of the Rocks" are not only classics in art history but also among the world's most valuable collection artworks, with extremely high investment value and cultural influence.


In our view, collection artworks refer to those artworks with historical, cultural, artistic, and scarcity values, usually collected, preserved, and exhibited by professional collectors, institutions, or museums. The value of collection artworks depends not only on the quality and characteristics of the artworks themselves but also on factors such as market supply and demand, historical context, social recognition, and aesthetic trends.



Leonardo da Vinci's artworks undoubtedly exemplify the classic prototype of collection artworks because of several characteristics:


Exceptional Artistic Level

Leonardo da Vinci was a comprehensive artist proficient in painting, sculpture, architecture, music, mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology, anatomy, engineering, and more. His paintings reflected profound observations and understanding of nature, employing various techniques such as perspective, chiaroscuro, color theory, anatomy, and proportion, creating a unique artistic style known as "Leonardoism." His works possess extremely high artistic value and aesthetic charm, hailed as the "crystallization of human wisdom," demonstrating remarkable creativity and innovation in painting techniques, composition, color, light, expression, and posture. His works embody the spirit of humanism, naturalism, and scientific inquiry while reflecting his contemplations on religion, philosophy, and society.


One of his most famous paintings is the "Mona Lisa," considered one of Leonardo da Vinci's most representative works, hailed as one of the world's most mysterious portraits. It portrays Leonardo da Vinci's profound depiction of the character's psychology and emotions, along with his exquisite use of light, shadow, and perspective. The most distinctive feature of this painting is the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile, both mysterious and captivating, sparking countless interpretations and legends.



Another great work is "The Last Supper," Leonardo da Vinci's outstanding mural and one of the world's most famous religious paintings, depicting Jesus and the twelve disciples during the Last Supper. It showcases Leonardo da Vinci's vivid portrayal of character actions and expressions, along with clever composition and spatial arrangement. The most striking feature of this painting is the posture and expressions of Jesus and the disciples, exhibiting contrast and harmony, reflecting Leonardo da Vinci's understanding and exploration of humanity and faith.


One of the rarest works to appear in the market is the "Salvator Mundi," Leonardo da Vinci's most mysterious work and the world's most expensive artwork, depicting Jesus as the Savior. It showcases Leonardo da Vinci's portrayal of the sacred and majestic nature of the figure, along with his masterful use of light, shadow, and perspective. The most notable feature of the painting is Jesus' raised right hand in a blessing gesture, while his left hand holds a crystal orb, symbolizing his authority and wisdom, as well as hinting at his vulnerability and sacrifice, reflecting Leonardo da Vinci's integration and balance of religion and science.


Another particularly significant work is the "Virgin of the Rocks," Leonardo da Vinci's most beautiful work and one of the world's most famous landscape paintings, depicting the scene of the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, Jesus, and an angel in a rocky cave. It showcases Leonardo da Vinci's harmonious unity of figures and nature, along with his meticulous grasp of color and atmosphere. The most notable features of this painting are the elegance and gentleness of the Virgin Mary, along with her intimacy and interaction with other figures, expressing Leonardo da Vinci's praise of humanity and beauty, as well as reflecting his contemplations and questioning of religion and philosophy.



As professional art collectors, we need to understand more details. For example, the style of painting, unique lighting effects, implicit emotions, and explorations in expression. Due to his interdisciplinary background, Leonardo da Vinci's understanding of human anatomy and science, coupled with his mastery of perspective and proportion, was remarkable. His works almost always exhibit precise spatial perception, realistic structures, and functions. Additionally, he excelled in using lighting effects to enhance the three-dimensionality and realism of his compositions, a feature particularly prominent in his portraits and historical paintings. It is worth noting the meticulous brushwork and attention to detail in his paintings, making his works appear very realistic yet full of metaphor. His works cannot be understood in isolation because he integrated a rich variety of scientific knowledge into his art, creating distinctive pieces.



Rarity of Artworks

Scarcity is a prerequisite for art collection. Throughout his life, Leonardo da Vinci completed fewer than 20 paintings, some of which remain unfinished or incomplete. The scarcity of his works is related to his attitude towards creation. He believed that art was an endless exploration and was always modifying and perfecting his works, sometimes even abandoning or destroying them. Furthermore, the scarcity of his works is also related to his life environment. He experienced several wars and upheavals, and his works were often damaged or lost. It is precisely because of the rarity of his works that each of his works has extremely high collection value.


Among the most rare and expensive works, only 15 paintings by Leonardo da Vinci are recognized as "his genuine works," most of which are held by museums and rarely appear on the market. The prices of Leonardo da Vinci's known works range from several million to several hundred million dollars, with the highest being the "Salvator Mundi," which was sold at a record-breaking price of $450 million at a Christie's auction in New York in 2017, setting a world record for artwork auctions. When discovered in 2005, the painting was sold for only $1,500. After restoration and authentication, its value skyrocketed 300,000 times in just 12 years.


The "Salvator Mundi" sold for $450 million at Christie's auction in New York in 2017, setting a world record for artwork auctions and the highest selling price for a Leonardo da Vinci artwork. "La Belle Ferronnière" sold for $172 million at Christie's auction in New York in 2015, ranking as the second-highest selling price for a Leonardo da Vinci artwork. "Madonna of the Yarnwinder" sold for $30 million at Christie's auction in New York in 2001, ranking as the third-highest selling price for a Leonardo da Vinci artwork. "Baptism of Christ" sold for $10.5 million at Christie's auction in New York in 1989, ranking as the fourth-highest selling price for a Leonardo da Vinci artwork.


Leonardo da Vinci's artworks have very limited data in auction houses because his works rarely appear on the market, and many are traded privately.



Long Artistic History

Leonardo da Vinci's works are not only artworks but also witnesses of history. His works reflect various aspects of society, politics, religion, culture, and science during the Renaissance period, showcasing the development and changes of human civilization. His works have also been inherited and circulated for several centuries, collected and exhibited by multiple countries and royal families, and have sparked numerous controversies and disputes. It is precisely because of the long history of his works that each piece possesses profound historical significance and cultural connotations, as well as extremely high historical value and cultural influence.


Many collectors have shown favoritism towards his works, including: King Francis I of France, who invited Leonardo da Vinci to reside in France and acquired works such as the "Mona Lisa" and "The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne." King Charles I of England, who owned works such as the "Salvator Mundi" and "The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne," later executed during the civil war, leading to the auction or dispersal of his collection. King Sigismund I of Poland, who owned "La Belle Ferronnière" and later sold it to King Louis XIV of France. The Medici family, rulers of Florence and patrons of the Renaissance, who owned "Baptism of Christ," later purchased by King George III of England. Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who purchased "Salvator Mundi" from Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier for $127.5 million in 2013, and later sold it at auction for $450 million in 2017. Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, who is the current owner of "Salvator Mundi," having purchased it at auction for $450 million in 2017 through Christie's, though his true identity remains publicly unconfirmed.



Furthermore, there has been much controversy surrounding the authenticity of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings. Despite the acclaim his works receive, there are still many debates regarding their authenticity and the meanings behind them. Art historians, collectors, and experts have been striving to interpret and explore the profound meanings behind Leonardo da Vinci's works. Indeed, authenticating Leonardo da Vinci's paintings is a highly complex and professional task, requiring the use of various methods and technologies, including source research, visual analysis, ultraviolet analysis, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, microscopic analysis, and more. These methods help us understand information about the history, materials, techniques, restoration, and damage of the paintings, aiding in determining their authenticity and value. A novel method involves using microbial communities on the paintings to authenticate them. Researchers have found that microbial communities on Leonardo da Vinci's paintings have certain common characteristics, as well as some unique features compared to other paintings. These features may be related to the time, place, and conditions of creation, serving as a basis for authentication. However, these methods are not absolute and require a combination of art historical knowledge and expert experience for comprehensive judgment.


In conclusion, Leonardo da Vinci's artworks are not only classics in art history but also highly coveted collection pieces and investment objects. His works not only hold significant positions in the art field but also garner widespread attention in the realms of collection and investment. With their exceptional artistic level, scarcity, and extensive artistic history, Leonardo da Vinci's works possess extremely high investment value and collection potential, making them among the world's top private art collections. Beyond purely investment considerations, Leonardo da Vinci's works have profound influences on contemporary art and culture. His artistic style and creative concepts not only propel the development of art but also provide rich inspiration and references for future artists.



Shanghai Museum presents the grand exhibition "Dialogue: Leonardo da Vinci and Eastern Aesthetics - Renaissance Encounter", featuring 18 Renaissance art treasures and 18 masterpieces of ancient Chinese paintings, initiating a dialogue between Leonardo da Vinci and Eastern aesthetics. This exhibition showcases not only Leonardo da Vinci's oil paintings and manuscripts but also precious sketches by Michelangelo, alongside classical Chinese paintings. Through a unique comparative approach, the exhibition explores the fascinating fusion of Eastern and Western art, allowing audiences to appreciate the splendid collision between the Renaissance period and Eastern aesthetics.


It is a transcendent journey through art across time and culture, revealing the richness of art in diverse cultural traditions. We welcome you to visit the exhibition and explore the charm and depth of art together.



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