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Leonardo da Vinci's painting 'Salvator Mundi' sells for record-breaking $450 million!

16 November 2017

A painting of Jesus by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci has been sold for $US450,312,500, becoming the most expensive work of art to ever be sold at auction.

"Salvator Mundi" was purchased by an unidentified buyer bidding via telephone after a protracted bidding war that stretched to almost 20 minutes at the NY auction house.

The Salvator Mundi auction price dwarfs the previous record set by another Leonardo da Vinci painting called Horse and Rider, a work on paper which sold for $11,481,865 at Christie's in 2001.

The highest known sale price for any artwork had been $300 million (253 million euros) for Willem de Kooning's "Interchange" in September 2015, which was sold privately.

A backer of the "Salvator Mundi" auction had guaranteed a bid of at least $100 million, the opening bid of the auction, which ran for 19 minutes. "We'll wait", said auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen in a brief pause in bidding at United States dollars 300 million. The final bid was $400 million, but the sale price includes a premium paid to Christie's.

The painting depicts a half-length figure of Jesus, holding a crystal orb in his left hand as he raises his right in benediction.

Its path from Leonardo's workshop to the auction block at Christie's was not smooth.

Leonardo da Vinci's painting 'Salvator Mundi' sells for record-breaking $450 million!
Leonardo da Vinci's painting 'Salvator Mundi' sells for record-breaking $450 million!

It was once owned by King Charles I but its whereabouts in the following years were unclear until it was bought in 1900 by a British collector.

Of the roughly 20 known contemporary copies of the Mundi, some by pupils or followers of the artist, none is of sufficient quality to support an attribution to the master himself, the auction house says.

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

The price could call into question a legal suit lodged by its Russian seller, who accused a Swiss art dealer in Monaco of allegedly overcharging him when he bought the work for $127.5 million in 2013.

Christie's experts said the painting's rarity was hard to overstate, calling it the "Holy Grail" for auction specialists.

Scholars believe the Leonardo painting is one of few works by Leonardo to survive the centuries since his death and the only one in private hands.

The auction in NY followed a campaign that saw the work exhibited in Hong Kong, San Francisco, London and NY.

Leonardo da Vinci's painting 'Salvator Mundi' sells for record-breaking $450 million!