A French lawyer has urged the auction house handling the sale of a 16th century Italian-English Bible to allow an expert to evaluate whether the manuscript is of dubious authenticity.
The Salina Printemps de Salerno auction house is offering the 1663 “Salvator Mundi” for $450 million at a Christie’s International auction on April 24 in New York.
But Alfred Bronstein says an “inquiry should be made to establish conclusively that this manuscript, which is for the benefit of the universal community, does not belong to only a few individuals or any group of individuals and does not belong to only a few collectors and even billionaires.”
Bonhams, the auction house responsible for finding a buyer, refused to produce the handwriting experts who earlier dated the document to the 16th century.
“The saleroom deems it unsuitable to release the handwriting of the authentication experts” who the French lawyer requested, the auction house said in a statement.
Christie’s also refused to divulge the details of the authentication process on the 17-ton, illuminated Bible, saying it would not violate “the wishes of a client.”
Auction house officials held a news conference on Monday in Paris to formally announce the sale of the Bible, which once belonged to Roman Catholic Pope Pius IX and whose finest known copy is in the British Library.
The religious manuscript was once owned by the Italian Catholic Archibishop of Milan and other Christian rulers, and then owned by Thomas Cromwell, the Lord Chancellor of England in the late 16th century, according to Bonhams.
The sale comes amid a wave of interest in the Gospel of Matthew written in Latin and illuminated with “softline” brushstrokes. Christie’s concluded in November 2017 that it is by Leonardo da Vinci, but scholars differ over whether his “Salvator Mundi” can be definitively dated to the 15th century.
“Salvator Mundi” is expected to fetch more than double the estimated price of $170 million it fetched in November at Sotheby’s.
The Bible manuscript is up for auction for the first time since it was bought by American collector Henry Ford in 1895. After World War II, it moved to Paris, and a team of restorers redressed and decayed the gilded, hollow bird’s-eye peak.
The scholar Thomas Gardiner, the scholar Benjamin Quince, and Italian and English scholars have been engaged in the restoration of the manuscript since 1969. The restoration project attracted considerable media attention, but the book has never been on public display since.
Bonhams said the Bible “demonstrates Leonardo’s continuing mastery of a challenge not only for him but for other artists, ever striving to achieve an art which remains both romantic and true to itself.”
But Ben Nevile, an Oxford University professor specializing in Leonardo studies, called Bonhams’ description of the book “crazy.”
He said it couldn’t be dated from the 450s “because Leonardo is too much in the amber after 550. They’re wrong about this Bible.”
The Telegraph newspaper in London earlier quoted Gardiner as saying: “This Bible does not belong to Leonardo. It is not by Leonardo. I’m a great believer in Leonardo and all that he does and the things he’s made great, but this is not what he painted.”