A deep perversion of value and meaning

by Caspar Henderson

Among the remarkable pieces of in-depth reporting over the summer so far is by Federico Varese who, in ‘Salvator Mundi’ and the unreality of the art market, tells how a painting, apparently from the studio of Leonardo da Vinci, was transformed from an object of minor interest, selling for $1,175 in 2005 into the world’s most expensive paintings, sold in 2018 for $450 million. 

There are many dimensions to the story, and different people will find different significances in it (not all of them necessarily negative). I  find myself about thinking what must be going through the mind of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, as — like Tolkien’s Gollum — he contemplates his supposed ‘treasure’, secreted away in his $500 million yacht, Serene.

Above all, however, the story speaks to me — and, I imagine, some others — about a deep the perversion or misdirection in people’s sense of what is valuable and meaningful.  It seems to distil, in an extreme form, aspects of what is wrong with our society and economy.

A good expression of the key issue is made by the author Jeremey Lent, who writes:

the underlying disease is one of separation: separation of mind from body, separation from each other, and separation from nature.

The formulation I’ve quoted from Lent here occurs in a response to the academic and campaigner Jem Bendell in relation to catastrophic risk and climate change, which I reread in the context of an exchange that could, perhaps, make a starting point for exploration in another post of wiser ways to think and act in a time of crisis.

Caspar Henderson is an Associate at Perspectiva and author of A New Map of Wonders

Images: Salvator Mundi before in 2006/7 before restoration, and detail from the restored painting of Christ’s hand holding a crystal sphere, which is said by some scholars to be evidence of Leonardo’s authorship. The sphere represents the heavens. Public domain.

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