Afghanistan’s Beautiful Link to Da Vinci’s $450 Million ‘Salvator Mundi’ – by Suleiman Wali (Huffington Post – November 20, 2017)

Itis difficult to imagine that the Renaissance-era painting by Leonardo da Vinci that was recently auctioned in New York for $450 million has any kind of relationship with Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world.

On the same day that the jaw-dropping Christie’s sale of Salvator Mundi (Italian for Savior of the World) shattered world records — and went for more than seven million times as much as it sold for in 1958 ($60!) — it was reported, coincidentally, that Afghanistan’s opium production also hit a new record high, rising 87 percent from last year.

However, it is not in the statistics, but in the aesthetics where an incredibly intimate connection can be made. The predominant color in the mesmerizing Salvator Mundi — the celestial, vivid blue that clothes Jesus Christ himself — hails from the rich and forbidding caves of the Sar-e-Sang valley in Afghanistan’s mountainous Badakhshan province. The source of this blue is the country’s lapis lazuli, a semiprecious gemstone that was once more expensive per ounce than gold.

In his famous Book of the Arts, written around 1400, the Italian painter Cennino Cennini says of the lapis lazuli pigment: “A noble color, beautiful, the most perfect of all colors.”

Lapis is the Latin word for “stone,” and lazuli is derived from “lajaward,” which is the rock’s name in Farsi. The word for “blue” in several languages was derived from lazuli: azure in English; azur in French; azzurro in Italian and azul in Spanish.

Once ground and turned into a powder, or pigment, this azure stone, then mixed with liquefying substances, became known as ultramarine, which literally means “over the sea,” a romantic reference to its passage from Afghanistan to Venice.

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