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NFT fans try to crack the Da Vinci Code


Over the past decade, the art world has seen many eccentrics. Against the background of the popularity of status assets in the world of low rates, which stimulate demand for safe havens, only the closed world of the super-rich and such a famous brand as Leonardo da Vinci could turn a $ 1000 bid for a painting “Savior of the World” at auction in 2005 to $ 450 million …

And now these kinks have spread to the digital art world. With the hype around cryptocurrencies, the situation with hyped collectibles, known as non-fungible tokens, is like a gold rush: according to NonFungible.com, over $ 2 billion worth of NFTs were resold in the first three months of 2021. Bored, rich millennials are spending money online without knowing the measure.

Along with bloated deals such as NFT artist Biple’s record $ 69 million sale, the space is characterized by a slew of scams, fraudulent schemes, commercial disputes and unabashed corporate cash infusions from companies such as McDonald’s Corp. and the New York Stock Exchange.

What sets these collectibles apart from regular JPEG images is transparency of ownership and authenticity, according to NFT proponents. Flamboyant memes and epic perennial online collages can be easily reproduced, however, in theory, an NFT digital signature – often pointing to a link rather than an image itself – cannot be copied. This is what makes collectors’ pulse beat faster.

Da Vinci Code

You can call this principle the Da Vinci Code of the cryptocurrency world. It’s a cliché now: every NFT fan, from Disclosure duo to Jack Dorsey’s first tweet buyer, has to cite the Mona Lisa.

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Just as the Louvre treasure is printed on a huge number of postcards and posters without diminishing the value of the original, so NFT owners believe that their digital signature will always have value.


“The Mona Lisa is interesting because the physical work has a history,” said the buyer of Beeple’s digital collage Everydays: the First 5,000 Days.


The paradox of using the Old Master’s work as a digital reference as an example of authenticity will not be overlooked by fans of art critic John Berger, whose 1970s documentary series The Art of Seeing argued that the value of fine art in the era of instant photography has come to depend entirely on authenticity.

Yet Berger criticized aspects of this “false religiosity.” He noted the protracted controversy over two Da Vinci paintings of the Madonna of the Rocks, one in the National Gallery in London and the other in the Louvre in Paris. Moreover, each side was convinced that she had the original.

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Authenticity issue

Take, for example, the painting “The Savior of the World”, which for many years was considered lost, but after being rediscovered in 2005, experts confirmed its authenticity, although not unanimously. Even today, doubts are again causing much noise; according to a new documentary, this prevented the Louvre from publicly approving the painting’s recent exhibition. The New York Times attributed the controversy to pressure from the Saudi owners of the work to exhibit near the Mona Lisa.

This is of great importance, because the more proof of authorship of the master, the more valuable the painting. Hanging a painting created by Da Vinci’s students on a royal yacht or in the center of a new cultural center in the Middle East is not the same thing.

Authenticity is a battle that takes time and money. Nonetheless, NFT fans see works of art like Da Vinci’s canvases as a permanent, timeless brand that replicates beautifully on the blockchain. After all, this supposedly immutable transaction log is being promoted as a way to avoid fights over authorship. But this is not a solution. NFT often means not an image, but a link or metadata file, which still depends on an image that exists separately somewhere on the server. Links get corrupted, and some digital images are replaced by others. NFT’s high-profile promises may not last 50 years, let alone 500.

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The fragility of contemporary art is nothing new. The preservation of videos from the 1980s and 1990s is the task of archivists. Perhaps NFT tokens will be an incentive to create more efficient digital storage devices, even if Biple does not agree that physical art is more valuable.


“I really want everything to be legal, and I take into account the recommendations on the press,” he said.


His work now hangs in a purpose-built virtual museum, possibly as a symbol of the future.

Mentioning Mona Lisa doesn’t really explain what exactly NFT buyers are getting. It also does not take into account the chaotic historical events that led to the fact that Da Vinci’s portrait became a world standard of art. It became truly famous only in 1911, when it was stolen from the Louvre and became a sensation in the world press. It may be necessary to steal the NFT from the crypto museum for investors to realize what really has value, even if it breaks a price bubble.

Prepared by Profinance.ru based on Bloomberg materials

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