Leonardo da Vinci’s Christ painting sells for record $450M

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Security guards open a door to reveal Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci at Christie’s in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Security guards open a door to reveal Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci at Christie’s in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New York (AP) — A painting of Christ by the Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci sold for a record $450 million (380 million euros) at auction last week, smashing previous records for artworks sold at auction or privately.

The painting, “Salvator Mundi,” Latin for “Savior of the World,” is one of fewer than 20 paintings by Leonardo 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.

“‘Salvator Mundi’ is a painting of the most iconic figure in the world by the most important artist of all time,” said Loic Gouzer, co-chairman of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s.  “The opportunity to bring this masterpiece to the market is an honor that comes around once in a lifetime.”

The highest price paid for a work of art at auction had been $179 million (152 million euros), for Pablo Picasso’s painting “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 (253 million euros), for Willem de Kooning’s painting “Interchange,” sold privately in September 2015 by the David Geffen Foundation to hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin.

The 26-inch-tall (66-centimeter-tall) Leonardo 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 Leonardo’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 Leonardo disciple, rather than to the master himself.

The painting was sold again in 1958 and then was acquired in 2005, badly damaged and partly painted over, by a consortium of art dealers who paid less than $10,000 (8,445 euros).  The art dealers restored the painting and documented its authenticity as a work by Leonardo.

The painting was sold last week by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who bought it in 2013 for $127.5 million (108 million euros) in a private sale that became the subject of a continuing lawsuit.