The world of art auctions, is in many ways, an alternate universe. It is a world where several millions of dollars are spent on works of art without anyone batting an eye. But recently, that alternate universe found itself in a frenzy over a record breaking sale that took place at Christie's.
Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' sold for a record breaking $450.3 million after fees at Christie's auction house in New York. The price is by far the highest price ever paid for any work of art up for auction. The previous high was Pablo Picasso's 'Women of Algiers,' which sold for $179.4 million at Christie's in May 2015.
'Salvator Mundi', which is Latin for 'Savior of the World,' is a 25.8 inch by 17.9 inch oil on walnut painting which depicts Jesus Christ holding an orb in his left hand.
Christie's decided to auction 'Salvator Mundi' in its high profile Post War & Contemporary auction, rather than its annual old master auction, where it is technically belonged. Prior to the auction, Christie's created a marketing campaign for the Da Vinci piece, opting to enlist an outside agency to advertise the work; a first for the auction house. Christies's called 'Salvator Mundi' "the Last da Vinci," referring to its status as the last known painting by da Vinci that was not in a private collection.
Despite the record breaking price paid for the artwork, it isn't without controversy. Some art experts dispute the authenticity of the piece. Jacques Franck, art historian and Leonardo specialist based in Paris, said that "the composition doesn't come from Leonardo… He preferred twisted movement. It's a good studio work with a little Leonardo at best, and it's very damaged."
In addition, Luke Syson, who curated the 2011 National Gallery exhibition in London that featured 'Salvator Mundi,' said that "the pictures has suffered," in reference to its condition.
The history of 'Salvator Mundi' is an interesting one. It was believed to have been painted around 1500, likely for King Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany. It was a part of the art collection of King Charles I, and was used to settle a part of his debt in 1651. The painting went missing sometime in the mid 1700s, and did not surface again until it entered the collection of Sir Frederick Cook of Virginia in the late 19th century. In 1958, the artwork sold for £45 in a Sotheby's London auction.
Then in 2005, the work was purchased at an estate sale for $10,000 by art dealer Alexander Parish. Eight years later, in 2013 Parish sold the piece to Yves Bouvier in a private Sotheby's sale for $80 million, who then turned around and sold it to Dmitry Rybolovev for $127.5 million. Rybolovev, finally, put 'Salvador Mundi' up for auction earlier this week, where it sold for a record price.