5 things about the US$450.3 million Leonardo da Vinci painting

Members of Christie's staff pose for pictures next to Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi painting.

NEW YORK - A rediscovered painting by Leonardo da Vinci broke the record for an artwork at auction, selling for US$450.3 million (S$610.8 million) at Christie's in New York on Wednesday (Nov 15).

Here are five things you should know about Salvator Mundi.

1. The 500-year-old painting is the only Leonardo in private hands and was brought to market by the family trust of Russian billionaire Dmitry E. Rybolovlev.

The fertiliser king purchased it for US$127.5 million in 2013 and it has been at the heart of an international legal battle. He assembled a US$2 billion trove with the help of art entrepreneur Yves Bouvier, but in recent years has been selling off works from the collection, often at steep discounts.

2. The small piece depicts Jesus raising his right hand in blessing and holding a crystal orb, meant to represent the world, in his left. Da Vinci painted it in the early 1500s, and it quickly inspired a number of imitations. Over the years, art historians have identified about 20 of these copies, but the original long seemed lost to history.

3. At one point, the painting was part of the royal collection of King Charles I of England. It disappeared in 1763 for nearly a century and a half. In 1900, Sir Charles Robinson purchased the painting for the Cook Collection in London. But by then, it was no longer credited to da Vinci but to his follower Bernardino Luini.

In 1958, the collection was auctioned off in pieces, with Salvator Mundi going for a mere £45, which translates to about US$125 today.

4. It resurfaced in Louisiana in 2005, in an overpainted and damaged condition. There, for US$10,000, New York-based art collector Robert Simon and art dealer Alexander Parish found and purchased it.

5. It underwent a six-year restoration and verification process.

In 2007, Dianne Dwyer Modestini, a professor of paintings conservation at New York University, set about restoring the portrait, which was still believed to be a copy. But it began dawning on her that the painting could be the original.

In 2011, after a series of tests, the art community reached a consensus: This was a bona fide Leonardo.

Sources: Bloomberg, NYTimes, Washington Post

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