Droga5’s Sublime Ad for Christie’s Captures the Power of a Leonardo Painting Without Even Showing It

When a masterpiece looks back

Headshot of Tim Nudd

Sometimes, not showing an artwork can be as powerful as showing it. This was true in Grey London’s story-rich campaign for the Tate Modern back in 2015. And it’s especially true of Droga5’s lovely, almost transcendental new spot for auction house Christie’s—which promotes the upcoming sale of a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci painting by not showing it at all.

Instead, the spot focuses on people’s reactions to the painting. And they are fascinating to watch.

Droga5 worked with portrait photographer Nadav Kander to place a hidden camera beneath the painting of Christ known as the Salvator Mundi (“Saviour of the World”)—confirmed over the past decade as a Leonardo work, after centuries in obscurity—at Christie’s New York, where it currently resides.

As people walked past the painting, the camera captured their often visceral response to it—in Droga5’s words, “painting a picture of the overwhelming emotion that this painting, its beauty and its divine subject matter stirred in all who came to see it.”

See the video here, which you’ll notice includes a few famous faces:

Droga5 refers to the Salvator Mundi as “The Last da Vinci,” a media-friendly affectation that recalls J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam’s “The Next Rembrandt,” a fascinating creative data project and a major winner on the ad awards circuit in recent years.

The rediscovered masterpiece is going on sale this coming Wednesday, as the headline piece at Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York. Here’s what Christie’s has to say about the work, and Droga5’s ad for it:

More than 20,000 people from all walks of life have come to gaze at Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi. After centuries in the hands of royal and private owners, its return to the public consciousness has resulted in queues wrapping around Christie’s exhibition spaces in London, Hong Kong, San Francisco and now in New York.

The experience of setting eyes on a work described as the ‘Divine Mona Lisa’—one of fewer than 20 paintings acknowledged as being from the Renaissance master’s hand—is one that has moved people in many different ways, with those experiences being shared myriad times via social media.

But what if the tables were turned and the Salvator Mundi could share with us what he has seen these last few weeks? Working with the world-renowned portrait photographer Nadav Kander, it was decided to honor the significance of Salvator Mundi—the greatest artistic rediscovery of the last 100 years—by documenting its profound effect on those looking and pointing their camera phones.

This postmodern turning-the-tables idea comes full circle through the extension of the campaign into Instagram. While so many museum-goers are now Instagramming the artwork they see, the Salvator Mundi is Instagramming the people who come to see it.

Photos of the visitors have been documented on Instagram @thelastdavinci. Each portrait is captioned with the first name of the visitor and the time of their visit, which Droga5 says is “a format reminiscent of a biblical scripture citation.”

Now that we’ve kept you in suspense, here’s a look at what they were looking at:

Christie’s: The Last da Vinci

Agency Droga5 NY
Creative Chairman David Droga
Chief Creative Officer Ted Royer
Creative Directors Laurie Howell, Toby Treyer-Evans
Senior Copywriter Tom McQueen
Chief Creation Officer Sally-Ann Dale
Co-Directors of Film Production Jesse Brihn, Bryan Litman
Senior Producer, Film Jennifer Chen
Producer, Film Isabella Lebovitz
Associate Producer, Film Phillip Cheng
Associate Producer, Film Kelly Appleton
Associate Producer, Film Annie Vlosich
Associate Producer, Film Carlos Valdivia
Music Supervisor Mike Ladman
Director of Integrated Production Business Affairs Jocelyn Howard
Co-Directors of Interactive Tasha Cronin, Justin Durazzo
Producer, Interactive Grace Wang
Director of Art Production Cliff Lewis
Senior Art Director George McQueen
Associate Director, Art Production Bianca Escobar
Producer, Print Nichole Katsikas
Director of Print Services Rob Lugo
Associate Director, Print Services Riely Clough
Producer, Print Rose Mahan
Retouching Manager Michelle Leedy
Retouching coordinator Michael Mockler
Retoucher John Clendenon
Graphics Studio Manager Virginia Vargas
Graphics Studio Coordinator Nereida Valles
Studio Artist Joseph Barrile
Studio Quality Control Manager Lisa Bishai
Studio Quality Control Specialist Susanne Johansson
Studio Quality Control Specialist Hoyu Yiu
Global Chief Strategy Officer Jonny Bauer
Group Strategy Director Will Davie
Strategist Daniel Wenger
Head of Communications Strategy Colleen Leddy
Communications Strategy Director Ben Nilsen
Chief Intelligence Officer Amy Avery
Group Account Director Alex Woods
Account Director Lauren Tomlinson
Account Manager Sherry Cao
Project Manager Hillary Jordan

Client Christie’s
CMO Marc Sands
Co-Chairman, Post-War & Contemporary Art Loïc Gouzer
Business Coordinator, Post-War & Contemporary Art Louise Makowski
SVP, Global Marketing Director Marissa Wilcox
Marketing Manager, Post-War & Contemporary Art Anita Martignetti

Production Company Chelsea Pictures
Director Nadav Kander
DOP Adam Beckman
Executive Producer Pat McGoldrick
Producer Jon Dino

Editorial Cut and Run
Editor Gary Knight
Assistant Editor Natalie Kasling
Executive Producer Lauren Hertzberg
Senior Producer Eytan Gutman

Telecine Company 3
Executive Producer Alexandra Lubrano
Colorist Tom Poole

Conform Jogger
Executive Producer Yuko Lytle
Flame Matt Dolven
Flame Joseph Grosso

Composer – Max Richter Song – On the Nature of Daylight

Sound Sonic Union
Mixer David Papa

BTS Photographer Paul McGeiver

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@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.