Leonardo da Vinci's Christ Painting Sells for Record $450 Million

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Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Christ, Salvator Mundi, sold for a record US$450.3 million (S$610.8 million) at Christie's, more than double the price for any work of art sold at an auction. "It has been more than a century since the last such painting turned up and this opportunity will not come again in our lifetime". It was long believed to have existed but was generally presumed to have been destroyed.

Andy Warhol's monumental 1986 work "Sixty Last Suppers" based on da Vinci's work, sold for $US60,875,000, while two works by fellow American painter Cy Twombly added more than $US73 million to the kitty, with Untitled, 2005, selling for $US46,437,500 and Sunset (1957) selling for $US27,312,500. Prior to that, it was consigned to a 1958 sale at Sotheby's where it sold for £45.

Punches were thrown by the millions, with the price jumping from $US332 million to $US350 million in one bid, then, after 18 minutes, from $US370 million to $US400 million, the price the hammer came down on. Gasps were heard in the saleroom, which gave way to applause when Christie's co-chairman Alex Rotter made the winning bid for a client on the phone.

Dated to around 1500, the work sold after 19 minutes of frenzied bidding - an incongruous Old Master in Christie's evening postwar and contemporary sale, which attracts the biggest spenders in the high-octane world of worldwide billionaire art collectors.

'It is every auctioneer's ambition to sell a Leonardo and likely the only chance I will ever have, ' said Pylkkänen. It is also wonderful for an Old Master to be at the centre of such attention. The art dealers restored the painting and documented its authenticity as a work by Leonardo. Further records by medium were set for works by Alexander Calder, Mark Rothko, Jean Dubuffet and Richard Serra.

Carl Court  Getty Images
Carl Court Getty Images

1 - Salvator Mundi of Leonardo da VINCI, awarded Wednesday to 450.3 million, by Christie's in NY. "Even for me, it is very hard to pinpoint what it is that makes this painting so poignant, you can not comprehend the mystery of Leonardo".

"Salvator Mundi" was attributed to Leonardo after six years of restoration and research, becoming the first discovery of a painting by the Renaissance master since 1909, according to Christie's.

In New York, where no museum owns a Leonardo, art lovers lined up outside Christie's Rockefeller Center headquarters on Tuesday to view "Salvator Mundi".

With much of public-facing art world firmly turning its back on the Trumps, it's yet another example of the fraught, high-stakes interests at play. It was, said Cerutti, 'a great moment for Christie's and a great moment for the art market'.

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