The art world gasped on Wednesday night. Around the globe the history-making sell of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” for $450,312,500 captivated the live auction audience at Christie’s, as well as the world during an epic 19 minutes of bidding.
The iconic painting will live on infamy as the most expensive work of art sold at auction.
Jussi Pylkkanen, the lively auctioneer, state, “It’s an historic moment; we’ll wait,” as the bids continued to grow to breathtaking heights.
At the moment Pylkkanen stated $400 million was up (plus fees) the room held their breaths as agents whispered into their phones with buyers. When the sale closed a roaring applause traveled out the room, down the halls and directly in to the streets of Rockefeller Center. A legendary night was made for the history books.
Christie’s presented the sale this fall the greatest artistic rediscovery of the 21st century: Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi. Painted by one of history’s greatest and most renowned artists, Salvator Mundi is one of fewer than 20 known paintings by Leonardo, and the only one in private hands. When it re-emerged in 2005, this exquisite work, depicting Jesus Christ as the savior of the world, became the first discovery of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci since 1909. Christie’s will have the great privilege of presenting Salvator Mundi in upcoming exhibitions in Hong Kong, San Francisco, London and New York, marking the first opportunities for the public in Asia and the Americas to see this exceptional and iconic work of art.
Dating from around 1500, the haunting oil on panel painting depicts a half-length figure of Christ as Savior of the World, facing frontally and dressed in flowing robes of lapis and crimson. He holds a crystal orb in his left hand as he raises his right hand in benediction. Leonardo’s painting of “Salvator Mundi” was long believed to have existed but was generally presumed to have been destroyed until it was rediscovered in 2005.
Loic Gouzer, Chairman, Post-War and Contemporary Art, New York, remarked: “Salvator Mundi is a painting of the most iconic figure in the world by the most important artist of all time. The opportunity to bring this masterpiece to the market is an honor that comes around once in a lifetime. Despite being created approximately 500 years ago, the work of Leonardo is just as influential to the art that is being created today as it was in the 15th and 16th centuries. We felt that offering this painting within the context of our Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale is a testament to the enduring relevance of this picture.”
Gouzer continued, “”Salvator Mundi” was painted in the same timeframe as the Mona Lisa, and they bear a patent compositional likeness. Leonardo was an unparalleled creative force, and a master of the enigmatic. Standing in front of his paintings, it becomes impossible for one’s mind to fully unravel or comprehend the mystery radiating from them – both the “Mona Lisa” and “Salvator Mundi” are perfect examples of this. No one will ever be able to fully grasp the wonder of Leonardo’s paintings, just as no one will ever be able to fully know the origins of the universe.”
The painting was first recorded in the Royal collection of King Charles I (1600-1649), and thought to have hung in the private chambers of Henrietta Maria – the wife of King Charles I – in her palace in Greenwich, and was later in the collection of Charles II. “Salvator Mundi” is next recorded in a 1763 sale by Charles Herbert Sheffield, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham, who put it into auction following the sale of what is now Buckingham Palace to the king.
It then disappeared until 1900 when it was acquired by Sir Charles Robinson as a work by Leonardo’s follower, Bernardino Luini, for the Cook Collection, Doughty House, Richmond. By this time, its authorship by Leonardo, origins and illustrious royal history had been forgotten, and Christ’s face and hair were overpainted. In the dispersal of the Cook Collection, it was ultimately consigned to a sale at Sotheby’s in 1958 where it sold for £45. It disappeared once again for nearly 50 years, emerging in 2005 when it was purchased from an American estate at a small regional auction house. Its rediscovery was followed by six years of painstaking research and inquiry to document its authenticity with the world’s leading authorities on the works and career of da Vinci.
In 2011, the dramatic public unveiling of “Salvator Mundi” (‘Savior of the World’) in the exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at The National Gallery, London, caused a worldwide media sensation.
Alan Wintermute, Senior Specialist, Old Master Paintings at Christie’s commented: “The Salvator Mundi is the Holy Grail of old master paintings. Long-known to have existed, and long-sought after, it seemed just a tantalizingly unobtainable dream until now. To see a fully finished, late masterpiece by Leonardo, made at the peak of his genius, appear for sale in 2017 is as close as I’ve come to an Art World Miracle. It has been more than a century since the last such painting turned up and this opportunity will not come again in our lifetime. I can hardly convey how exciting it is for those of us directly involved in its sale. The word ‘masterpiece’ barely begins to convey the rarity, importance and sublime beauty of Leonardo’s painting.’
Francois de Poortere, Head of Old Master Paintings, added: “It is an honor to be entrusted with the sale of this mystical masterpiece. After centuries of hiding, da Vinci’s Christ as “Salvator Mundi”stirred unmatched sensation in the art world when it was unveiled on the walls of London’s National Gallery in 2011. We look forward to creating a similar sensation at Christie’s sites worldwide over the next month, as we share what many call the ‘Male Mona Lisa’ – with our global community of collectors, art historians and the public.”
Here is to a moment of art glory.