‘Leonardo da Vinci artwork’ sells for record $450m

 In U.S.
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Media captionThe painting has been cleaned and restored from the image on the left to the one on the right

A 500-year-old painting of Christ believed to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci has been sold in New York for a record $450m (£341m).

The painting is known as Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World).

It is the highest auction price for any work of art and brought cheers and applause at the packed Christie’s auction room.

Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519 and there are fewer than 20 of his paintings in existence.

Salvator Mundi, believed to have been painted sometime after 1505, is the only work thought to be in private hands.

Bidding began at $100m and the final bid for the work was $400m, with fees bringing the full price up to $450.3m. The unidentified buyer was involved in a bidding contest, via telephone, that lasted nearly 20 minutes.

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AFP

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Excitement in the auction room rose as the bids by telephone came in

The painting shows Christ with one hand raised, the other holding a glass sphere.

In 1958 it was sold at auction in London for a mere £45.

By then the painting was generally reckoned to be the work of a follower of Leonardo and not the work of Leonardo himself.

It apparently was part of King Charles I of England’s collection in the 1600s and got lost, but was “rediscovered” in 2005.

Analysis by Arts Editor Will Gompetz

$450m for Salvator Mundi is an astonishing price to have realised, given both its condition and authenticity have been questioned.

It shows that ultimately art comes down to belief.

And there were plenty of bidders last night who were suitably convinced by its Leonardo da Vinci attribution to drive the price up to such stratospheric heights.

As yet, the new owner is unknown.

Speculation will be rife. Which I will contribute to, by noting the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi will have a Leonardo shaped hole in its displays when the decade-long loan deal with the French museums comes to an end.

Wherever it ends up, you’ve got to hand it to Christie’s for its masterclass in the art of selling art.

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Getty Images

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Art agents celebrated when the sale was completed

In a bold move, without a hint of irony, the painting was sold in its Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale alongside a Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol.

Why not in the Old Masters Sale? Because that’s not where the elephant bucks are.

The big money comes into the room nowadays when Pollocks and Twomblys are on the block, and promptly leaves when the Reynolds and Winterhalters arrive.

Read more of Will Gompertz’s blogs here.

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Media captionSalvator Mundi was discovered hidden under layers of paint

Dr Tim Hunter, who is an expert in Old Master and 19th Century art, told the BBC the painting is “the most important discovery in the 21st Century”.

“It completely smashes the record for the last Old Masters painting to sell – Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in 1988. Records get broken from time to time but not in this way.

“Da Vinci painted less than 20 oil paintings and many are unfinished so it’s incredibly rare and we love that in art.”

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