Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa may be his most famous work, but it has probably lost the honor of being the most significant work by the artist. A 500-year old painting by Leonardo Da Vinci depicting Jesus Christ titled “Salvator Mundi” has sold at auction for a record shattering $450.3 million. This painting is now undoubtedly the most expensive in the world having not only dethroned but totally eclipsed Picasso’s “Women of Algiers” which set the previous record in 2015 after selling at auction for $179 million.
The painting has quite a story behind it. It was first recorded in the Royal collection of King Charles I (1600-1649), and thought to have hung in the private chambers of Henrietta Maria – the wife of King Charles I – in her palace in Greenwich, and later in the collection of Charles II.
It then surfaced in 1763, put on sale by Charles Herbert Sheffield, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham, who put it into auction following the sale of what is now Buckingham Palace to the king. As with many paintings, Salvator Mundi was then unheard of until as late as 1900, when it was acquired by Sir Charles Robinson as a work attributed to Leonardo’s follower, Bernardino Luini, for the Cook Collection. By this time, its authorship by Leonardo, origins and illustrious royal history had been forgotten. Moreover it was unrecognizable as Christ’s face and hair had been overpainted and obscured.
When the Cook Collection was sold off, it was consigned to a sale at Sotheby’s in 1958 where it sold for paltry £45. It re-emerged at last in 2005 when it was purchased from an American estate at a small regional auction house.
After six years spent on the careful cleaning, conservation, documentation and research of the painting, it was in 2011 accepted as a fully autograph work by Leonardo da Vinci and returned to the public eye as part of the exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at The National Gallery, London.
As for the auction itself, it was supposedly as tense as any thriller film. Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen, Global President of Christie’s, opened the bidding at $75 million, pulling in at least 45 bids from clients on the phone and in the room. However, things quickly escalated into a bidding war between Alex Rotter, Co-Chariman, Post-War and Contemporary Art and Francois de Poortere, Head of Department, Old Masters, New York, each bidding on behalf of clients on the phone.
At the $400 million mark, Mr. de Poortere surrendered the last Leonardo painting left in private hands to a new anonymous owner for a final price of $450.3 million inclusive of fees.