A pentimento means a change of mind. It refers to corrections and alterations of the position of a particular part of a composition made by the artist as part of the process of creation. When making these changes, the painter cancels his previous idea by covering it over with new paint to effect the revision. After this was done, the underlying paint, which expressed his earlier idea, was invisible to the viewer. Over time, due to alterations in the refractive index of the binding medium in relation to that of the pigments, rendering the paint layer more translucent, the underlying passages often become visible. In general, the existence of pentimenti indicate that a painting is autograph and that, in the case of paintings of which there are several versions, that it is the first and prime example. In the Salvator Mundi, several changes were made in the course of painting. They are significant revisions and not the slight adjustments a copyist would make.
The blessing hand
The most obvious pentimento is of the thumb of the blessing hand, which had been exposed during the radical scraping away of the original black background in the past and was immediately visible when the painting was first cleaned. Although somewhat damaged, it is clear that the passage had already been fully modelled. The second, final position of the thumb may have been painted on top of the opaque black background color, not just the thin initial wash. There is evidence that not only was the position of the thumb changed, but the entire hand was shifted slightly lower and towards the edge of the painting: in the crevice between the thumb and forefinger part of the first position of the palm is visible. It is only a small adjustment, but it was evidently of great importance for the painter to make a major change at such a late state in the development of the final composition.
Lower position of the blessing hand
The question as to whether or not the blessing hand was originally conceived in a lower position has often been raised. Another interpretation of the Salvator Mundi in a less hieratical pose exists in a number of paintings by Leonardo’s followers, for example, the painting by Marco d’Oggiono in the Galleria Borghese, and another interpretation in the Pushkin Museum by Giampietrino. Both show a young, beardless Christ. In Marco D’Oggiono’s work, the hand is in the lower position and seen at an angle similar that that of the Salvator Mundi while in the Moscow painting the hand faces the viewer and is more open.
|Alinari / Art Resource, NY|
Giotto, Blessing Christ, North Carolina Museum of Art, Samuel H. Kress Collection