An ancient Leonardo da Vinci painting that is one of the most renowned works of art ever made has found fresh doubt over its authenticity, after a museum cast doubt over the provenance of a document in the document.
The “Salvator Mundi” has been called by experts the most valuable painting in the world, but doubts have now arisen over the authenticity of a document that was shown to be authentic when used to raise funds for the masterpiece.
The document in question was signed by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo along with 13 individuals that have had a hand in the art world over the years and illustrates the work’s history.
Fox News has learned that the document is essentially a stolen title deed that has been used before in the art world.
Hidalgo, who has now said she signed the document as a favor to an individual, may have learned that her signature was forged due to a painting with her signature on it being auctioned off more than 20 years ago in the “Empty Rooms” series.
The lack of provenance for the document could have serious repercussions for the “Salvator Mundi” itself, and not just because it was auctioned off in 1997.
The “Salvator Mundi” was bought in 2015 by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, and some fine art experts now doubt that it was worth its staggering value at the time.
They have a new concern that the document that Hidalgo signed may have come from an earlier deal, and is forgery.
However, there are also fears that the document could have been forged years ago when it was sold to Rybolovlev.
The document is now on loan to the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg for the upcoming exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan.”
The Hermitage is expected to have a lot of time to study the document and determine its authenticity before its art work takes center stage in the exhibition that begins in March.
Jamie Bograd, a lawyer who previously served as director of the Miami International Gift Show in Florida and worked on the “Sistine Chapel” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has used her expertise to examine the document.
She told Fox News that the fact that the document has now surfaced 20 years after the painting’s sale could prove to be critical in determining the painting’s authenticity.
“This document could be a critical piece of evidence, not only in proving the authenticity of the ‘Salvator Mundi’, but the whole history of the acquisition of the Leonardo works by the right people, who knew the Italian Renaissance master’s life and work well enough to procure this work.”
Author and art expert Henry Bultman, author of “A Painter at the Court of Milan: Leonardo da Vinci and His Works of Art”, said that there is reason to be suspicious about the validity of the document.
“There’s simply no reason why somebody would need to steal a property deed [for a] piece of art. It’s just preposterous. I will ask myself, does it have something to do with this painting? Well you may even begin to see some evidence that it may have been used years ago to get the painting from one institution to another.”
Bograd has reviewed the document in detail, has looked at several other examples that were used by Leonardo to acquire his works, and that the document appears to have been used at least once before by a then-unknown Leonardo.
“The owner received this document from someone that I can only imagine is one of the owners of the “Salvator Mundi”. The majority of the document is consistent with the Leo and Anne Hidalgo signatures, which is completely evident. However, the document is clearly forged, and not in Leonardo’s handwriting.”
Bultman also says there is no way that the document was forged because in the era of Leonardo, pen and ink were generally used. He says that there are two pen and ink models “as good as any Leonardo work.”
Fox News has reached out to the Hidalgo’s attorneys but have not yet heard back.
Matthew VanDyke, a lawyer representing Rybolovlev, also disputes Bograd’s statement that the document was forged, and instead says that his client had no knowledge of the document’s authenticity.
VanDyke says Rybolovlev initially declined to sign the document “because he did not find it authentic.” VanDyke also says that Rybolovlev quickly realized the document’s validity and signed it after speaking with experts.
Bograd says that she will file a formal complaint with French law enforcement against Hidalgo and Rybolovlev’s attorneys for the document’s fraudulent use.
Fox News has reached out to Hidalgo’s attorneys for comment but have not yet