From the mid-fourteenth century, a new form of spirituality, the devotio moderna, was disseminated in Flanders by the Brethren of the Common Life. It promoted among its followers a more individualistic and interiorized mysticism than before, with much more direct communication between the soul and Christ. As an aid to their new devotions, the faithful sought out small paintings before which they could meditate in the home, making of their bedchamber a kind of cell. Thus, starting in Flanders, a type of Salvator Mundi was developed of which we contemplate here a magnificent example. Painted in around 1518, it was initially attributed to Quentin Metsys, then later to Joos van Cleve. This new attribution however seems less likely than the first.
Reworking the triumphant pose of Christ Pantocrator in a more intimate manner, the Savior of the world is depicted wearing a blue tunic, symbol of the waters of baptism, and a purple mozetta, sign of his power over heaven and earth. His right hand is raised, not in blessing as is sometimes wrongly thought but, as a Master (Rabbi), to instruct. Under his left hand he holds a globus cruciger encompassing a landscape that summarizes the four elements: water, earth, air, and fire. We have here a cosmic all-embracing representation of the visible universe, designed as an object of contemplation, viewed from the great height of a window opened onto the invisible universe. The orb is surmounted by a cross, for all of creation has been saved and as though recreated through the sacrifice of Calvary. Finally, Christ’s face bears an expression at the same time majestic and benevolent. His eyes meet ours, gazing deep into our very soul.
Salvator Mundi, Joos Van Cleve (c. 1485–c. 1540), Louvre Museum, Paris. © RMN–Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Gérard Blot.