“Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head overall. Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things.” (1 Chronicles 29:11-12) 

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10) 

In 2017, Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ painting (above left) sold for $450 million (£350 million), becoming the most expensive painting ever. The Salvator Mundi theme (Saviour of the World) has been a common one in religious art and iconography for half a millennium, dominating European religious art from the 15th century and still echoing in the 21st century. Dornoch Cathedral has one of my favourite stained-glass versions (above right). 

Common themes of a Salvator Mundi are a crystal or gold orb or a globe representing the world, cradled in Christ’s left hand. Typically, there is a cross on the orb the Christ-figure holds. Interestingly, da Vinci omits this but instead references a crux decussate – a saltire or ‘St. Andrews Cross’ – in the golden sash across Christ’s chest. The Salvator Mundi is typically depicted with a crown, though da Vinci’s version is bare-headed, and the Dornoch Cathedral version has a crown of thorns. The right hand is raised in blessing – the Dornoch version includes one of the stigmata visible on the palm. His serene, sympathetic gaze is fixed on the viewer. Often a Salvator Mundi painting has Christ in a blue and gold robe, as does da Vinci’s version, colours symbolic of royalty. Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi is just 45 by 65 centimetres and the Dornoch version is larger than life-size. 

These icons, depictions, religious art and stained-glass windows of previous generations were intentionally designed narratives, often using symbolic convention. They functioned as a visual reference Bible that engaged mind and soul and emotions devotionally. They still do. 

There is truly “nothing new under the sun.” The Salvator Mundi themes emerged as a comfort and an encouragement and as a focus for intercessions in a century of great upheaval across Europe. Nations struggled to survive plague pandemics that regularly decimated whole populations. Extreme climate shifts brought drought and flood and subsequent famine – the 15th century ‘hunger stones’ have reappeared in European rivers. Military conflicts created mass movements of refugees. Political strife and deep divisiveness fragmented stability and brought severe economic distress. At times it feels as though my thumbnail sketch of 15th century Europe might equally well describe our contemporary scenario.  

And so, I find myself reflecting on the Salvator Mundi. A visual reminder that Christ still holds the world; that He offers blessing to those who look to Him; that He alone is ‘Saviour of the World’; that He remains “ruler of all things”; that He is the Shalom in the chaos. And ultimately we are in His hands.