"Salvator Mundi", Leonardo da Vinci's $661m painting

Updated: Aug 22, 2019

Salvator Mundi Painting by Leonardo da Vinci

SOLD for 661.26 million AUD November 2017 at Christies New York Auction House

This sale smashed the previous record set by Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) (1955), which sold for $179.4 million at the same house in May of 2015.

Salvator Mundi is recognised as one of the great rediscoveries of the 21stCentury after Robert Simon, a private broker snapped up the artwork from a regional auction in Louisiana for a fee less than $10,000, .2% of what piece for sold for at Christies recent auction. ‘Saviour of the World’ is one of less than 20 known paintings by Leonardo da Vinci to have survived to this day.

In November 2017, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi was auctioned off at Christies New York Auction House for 450 million USD (AUD $590 Million) in what’s become the most expensive artwork ever auctioned.

The history of the work dates back to the 1500’s, towards the end of Leonardo’s life. It’s expected the art was commissioned by a high-ranking official because of the precious materials used in constructing the piece, and unlike many of da Vinci’s artworks the ‘saviour of the world’ was finished.

The first record of the Salvator Mundi was in the private art collection of King Charles I. Following the Kings execution, the crown gave a substantial amount of his collection to creditors to offset large debts. The piece then fell into the hands of John Stone, a mason (equivalent to a modern-day architect) who held the artwork for 9 years before the monarchy was restored by King Charles II. It was then that parliament passed an act allowing the crown to repossess all items.

The Salvator Mundi then descended from the collection of King Charles II to his successor, younger brother, King James II. His mistress Catherine Sedley inherited the piece from the King before marrying the First Duke of Buckingham, who built Buckingham House which is today known as Buckingham Palace.

In 1761 Buckingham House was sold to the crown and the contents, including the Salvator Mundi, are auctioned off in 1763. Here the piece completely disappears. It is presumed at this point that Leonardo’s original was heavily overpainted, only slightly resembling the most expensive artwork in history. This was a popular practice during this era where Christ was made to appear more masculine to suit a male dominated society.

Towards the end of the 19th century the artwork reappeared at an auction house in London where its sold as a copy of the original to a very prominent British collector, Francis Cook, at a very low cost. It remained in the possession of Cook until 1958 where its sold Sotheby’s Auction House in London for 45 pounds (1,050 pounds w/ adjusted inflation) (A$2,000).

The piece was largely unaccounted for until it reappeared in 2005 at a regional auction house in Louisiana where Robert Simon, a fine art specialist and collector of da Vinci works, purchased it for $10,000 USD ($13,100 USD adjusted for inflation). For 6 years the artwork was restored until its authentication in 2011.

Although many of us value art due to its aesthetic qualities, we cannot underestimate the potential goldmine that art can produce. The wealth of art may be much greater than we first perceive! Fine collectors of Berry Art may well be the winners of great fortunes!

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