Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi achieved an unprecedented result at a post-war and contemporary art auction at Christie’s on November 15.
The circa 1500 canvas, the last of the artist’s paintings left on the market, sold for the world record sum of $450.3m.
That figure is way beyond the previous auction record of $179.4m, set for Picasso’s Women of Algiers at Christie’s in 2015.
It’s also a huge increase on the record for a private sale, eclipsing the $300m paid for Willem de Koonig’s Interchange by 50%.
Salvator Mundi is the world's most valuable work of art
It’s important to note both those paintings are by modern artists, whose work is typically in higher demand among collectors.
The previous old master record was $76.7m for Rubens’ Massacre of the Innocents.
It’s unheard of for a painting of this era to be offered in a sale of modern art.
But Salvator Mundi is not a regular work.
It has only been recognised as a genuine da Vinci since 2011, following extensive research and forensic examination. Prior to that, it was thought to be a work by one of his followers - Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio.
This was reflected in its initial sale price of just £45 in 1958. It last sold for $10,000, in 2005.
There is continuing controversy over its authenticity. Some experts maintain there are key differences between this painting and the rest of da Vinci’s catalogue. Little care was taken with its refurbishment over the centuries and the condition has suffered.
This is believed to be a self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci
However, these concerns had a limited impact on the final result.
So what is it about da Vinci that boosts his work way above his contemporaries, or indeed any other artist?
There’s a number of factors in play. For a start, he’s behind the two most famous paintings of all time – the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper.
He’s also an iconic figure, who has come to represent the ideal of the “Universal Genius”. As well as an artist, he was an unparalleled inventor, architect and scientist.
There’s also a pervasive idea that his paintings carry coded messages, a theme endlessly picked over in popular culture.
Few of da Vinci’s paintings have survived into the present day. In all 16 are known, all of which (bar this one) are in museums.
Christie’s president Jussi Pylkkanen said: “It is every auctioneer’s ambition to sell a Leonardo and likely the only chance I will ever have.
“It’s the pinnacle of my career so far. It is also wonderful for an Old Master to be at the centre of such attention.
“The excitement from the public for this work of art has been overwhelming and hugely heartening.”
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