Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
November 16, 2017

From Da Vinci to Mnuchins, Obscene Wealth as Gospel

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson. Bidding representatives react after Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” sold for $450 million at Christie’s, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, in New York.

The era of billionaire populism is going to be remembered with pictures like this.

In this obviously blasphemous scene from Christie’s auction house in New York City, where someone just won the day by phoning in a half-billion dollar bid on the flawed and dubiously-attributed da Vinci, Man of Sorrows, these hand-grubbing money changers epitomize how a prevailing theology of wealth perverts the teachings of Jesus.

Sell all you have and give it to the poor? Yeah, don’t call me I’ll call you.

Monetizing faith is nothing new, of course. But this kind of photographic commentary on the selling of souls feels just right for the times, when those with obscene personal wealth get to stand on the pedestal, and when those in their Sunday best can only catch the spirit when it comes packaged in feudal amounts of cash.

How easy it is to imagine that tomorrow’s history books will include this photograph from Christie’s, taken yesterday by AP’s Julie Jacobson, on the same spread as this week’s other nauseating display of lucre and leather, since both images encapsulate the prevailing belief, exacerbated by an ascendant prosperity gospel, that personal wealth should be held up as a sign of natural superiority.

Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, right, and his wife Louise Linton hold a 2017 50 subject uncut sheet of $1 dollar notes bearing Mnuchin's name for a photograph at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. A change in the Senate tax-overhaul plan that would expand a temporary income-tax break for partnerships, limited liability companies and other so-called "pass-through" businesses won the endorsement of a national small-business group today. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

— Philip Perdue

(Photo 1: Julie Jacobson/AP Photo. Caption: Bidding representatives react after Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” sold for $450 million at Christie’s, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, in New York. Photo 2: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images Caption: Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, right, and his wife Louise Linton hold a 2017 50 subject uncut sheet of $1 dollar notes bearing Mnuchin’s name for a photograph at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. A change in the Senate tax-overhaul plan that would expand a temporary income-tax break for partnerships, limited liability companies and other so-called “pass-through” businesses won the endorsement of a national small-business group today. 

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