Portrait of Christ by da Vinci sells for record $611m

Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi, which was sold in 1958 for just £45 - or S$81 in today's value - was auctioned off at S$610.8 million.
Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi, which was sold in 1958 for just £45 - or S$81 in today's value - was auctioned off at S$610.8 million.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • 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.

The painting, only recently rediscovered, was the last da Vinci left in private hands and fetched more than four times the pre-sale estimate of about US$100 million.

It beat a record set in May 2015 by Pablo Picasso's Les Femmes D'Alger, which sold for US$179.4 million. The painting constituted more than half of Wednesday's sales total of US$785.9 million, which came in well above the roughly US$450 million pre-sale estimate.

Salvator Mundi - Saviour Of The World - was purchased by an unidentified buyer bidding via telephone after a protracted contest of nearly 20 minutes at the New York auction house.

With at least six bidders and increments coming in at more than US$15 million, cheers broke out in the packed sales room as the hammer came down.

"It was a moment when all the stars were aligned, and I think Leonardo would be very pleased," said Mr Jussi Pylkkanen, global president of Christie's.

The restored portrait, an ethereal depiction of Jesus Christ which dates to about 1500, is one of fewer than 20 paintings by the Renaissance artist known to still exist.

First recorded in the private collection of King Charles I, the work was auctioned in 1763 before vanishing until 1900, by which time Christ's face and hair had been painted over - once a "quite common" practice, according to Mr Alan Wintermute, Christie's senior specialist for Old Master paintings.

Sold at Sotheby's to an American collector in 1958 for only £45 - or S$81 in today's value - it sold again in 2005 as an overpainted copy of the masterwork.

The new owner then started the restoration process and, after years of research, it was authenticated as a da Vinci masterpiece.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2017, with the headline 'Portrait of Christ by da Vinci sells for record $611m'. Print Edition | Subscribe