Art

Painting by Leonardo da Vinci sells for a record $450 million

Bidding representatives react after Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" sold for $400 million at Christie's, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Julie Jacobson/AP
Bidding representatives reacted after Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" sold at Christie's on Wednesday.

NEW YORK — A painting of Christ by the Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci sold for a record $450 million at auction on Wednesday, obliterating previous records for artworks sold at auction or privately.

The painting, called ‘‘Salvator Mundi,’’ Italian for ‘‘Savior of the World,’’ is one of fewer than 20 paintings by Leonardo known to exist and the only one in private hands. It was sold by Christie’s auction house, which didn’t immediately identify the buyer.

The highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction had been $179.4 million, for Picasso’s ‘‘Women of Algiers (Version O)’’ in May 2015, also at Christie’s in New York. The highest known sale price for any artwork had been $300 million, for Willem de Kooning’s ‘‘Interchange,’’ sold privately in September 2015 by the David Geffen Foundation to hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin.

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The 26-inch-tall Leonardo painting dates from around 1500 and shows Christ dressed in Renaissance-style robes, his right hand raised in blessing as his left hand holds a crystal sphere.

Its path from Leonardo’s workshop to the auction block at Christie’s was not smooth. Once owned by King Charles I of England, it disappeared from view until 1900, when it resurfaced and was acquired by a British collector. At that time it was attributed to a Leonardo disciple, rather than to the master himself.

The painting was sold again in 1958 and then acquired in 2005, badly damaged and partly painted-over, by a consortium of art dealers who paid less than $10,000. The art dealers restored the painting and documented its authenticity as a work by Leonardo.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15: A visitor takes a photo of the painting 'Salvator Mundi' by Leonardo da Vinci at Christie's New York Auction House, November 15, 2017 in New York City. The coveted painting is set to be auctioned off on Wednesday night and has been guaranteed to sell for over $100 million.(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
The painting, called ‘‘Salvator Mundi,’’ Italian for ‘‘Savior of the World,’’ is one of fewer than 20 paintings by Leonardo known to exist and the only one in private hands.

The painting was sold Wednesday by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who bought it in 2013 for $127.5 million in a private sale that became the subject of a continuing lawsuit.

Christie’s says most scholars agree that the painting is by Leonardo, though some critics have questioned the attribution and some say the extensive restoration muddies the work’s authorship.

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Christie’s capitalized on the public’s interest in Leonardo, considered one of the greatest artists of all time, with a media campaign that labeled the painting ‘‘The Last Da Vinci.’’ The work was exhibited in Hong Kong, San Francisco, London and New York before the sale.

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.’’

Svetla Nikolova, who is from Bulgaria but lives in New York, called the painting ‘‘spectacular.’’

‘‘It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,’’ she said. ‘‘It should be seen. It’s wonderful it’s in New York. I’m so lucky to be in New York at this time.’’

Christie's auctioneer Jussi Pylkannen, left, looks for one last bid for Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" at Christie's, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, in New York. The painting sold at $400 million. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Julie Jacobson/AP
Christie's auctioneer Jussi Pylkannen, left, looked for one last bid.

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