Christ Painting by Leonardo da Vinci Sells for Record $450M

Getty Images

The sale of the Renaissance painter's "Salvator Mundi" took place Wednesday at Christie's auction house in New York City.

A painting of Christ by the Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci sold for a record $450 million at auction on Wednesday, obliterating previous records for artworks sold at auction or privately.

The painting, called "Salvator Mundi," Italian for "Savior of the World," is one of fewer than 20 paintings by da Vinci known to exist and the only one in private hands. It was sold by Christie's auction house, which didn't immediately identify the buyer.

The highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction had been $179.4 million, for Picasso's "Women of Algiers (Version O)" in May 2015, also at Christie's in New York. The highest known sale price for any artwork had been $300 million, for Willem de Kooning's "Interchange," sold privately in September 2015 by the David Geffen Foundation to hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin.

The 26-inch-tall da Vinci painting dates from around 1500 and shows Christ dressed in Renaissance-style robes, his right hand raised in blessing as his left hand holds a crystal sphere.

Its path from da Vinci's workshop to the auction block at Christie's was not smooth. Once owned by King Charles I of England, it disappeared from view until 1900, when it resurfaced and was acquired by a British collector. At that time it was attributed to a da Vinci disciple, rather than to the master himself.

The painting was sold again in 1958 and then acquired in 2005, badly damaged and partly painted over, by a consortium of art dealers who paid less than $10,000. The art dealers restored the painting and documented its authenticity as a work by da Vinci.

The painting was sold Wednesday by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who bought it in 2013 for $127.5 million in a private sale that became the subject of a continuing lawsuit.

Christie's says most scholars agree that the painting is by da Vinci, though some critics have questioned the attribution and some say the extensive restoration muddies the work's authorship.

Christie's capitalized on the public's interest in da Vinci, considered one of the greatest artists of all time, with a media campaign that labeled the painting "The Last Da Vinci." The work was exhibited in Hong Kong, San Francisco, London and New York before the sale.

In New York, where no museum owns a da Vinci, art lovers lined up outside Christie's Rockefeller Center headquarters on Tuesday to view "Salvator Mundi." Svetla Nikolova, who is from Bulgaria but lives in New York, called the painting "spectacular."

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," she said. "It should be seen. It's wonderful it's in New York. I'm so lucky to be in New York at this time."

comments powered by Disqus