Christie’s auction house on Wednesday described frenzied bidding for a 500-year-old painting believed to be by Leonardo de Vinci, which went under the hammer for $450.3 million, smashing a previous record for a piece of artwork sold privately or at auction.
The portrait of “Salvator Mundi” which depicts Jesus Christ was sold on behalf of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, the boss of soccer club AS Monaco.
Some 45 clients — on the phone and in the New York auction room — spent 19 minutes making counterbid after counterbid for the work.
The contest for the masterpiece was eventually reduced to just two bidders, which saw the price reach more than double the previous record for a painting, set by Picasso’s “Les Femmes D’Alger,” which sold for $179.4 million in May 2015.
The identity of the buyer — who secured the painting by phone — was not immediately disclosed.
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The painting, only recently rediscovered and the last Leonardo left in private hands, fetched more than four times over the Christie’s presale estimate of about $100 million.
“Salvator Mundi” resurfaced at a regional US auction in 2005, and is thought to be one of fewer than 20 Leonardo paintings known to exist.
All others are held in museum or institutional collections.
The painting depicts a half-length figure of Jesus, holding a crystal orb in his left hand as he raises his right in benediction.
Once almost worthless
In 1958, the painting was sold for just $60 because it was thought to be a copy. Since it resurfaced, it has been exhibited at the National Gallery in London and at Christie’s showrooms all over the world.
According to rumors, the Italian artist painted “Salvator Mundi” for the French royal family and it was taken to England by Queen Henrietta Maria when she married King Charles I in 1625.
The painting has been at the center of a lawsuit by Rybolovlev, who has accused Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier of overcharging him on a string of art deals.
Bouvier bought the work at Sotheby’s for $80 million in 2013. He resold it within days to the Russian tycoon, for $127.5 million, netting a $47.5 million profit. Bouvier has denied any wrongdoing.
mm/kl (AFP, AP, Reuters)