'Last Leonardo' sells for $450 million at Christie's

A rare painting by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci of Christ holding a crystal orb has sold for a record $450 million (380 million euros) at a NY auction.

The winning bid for the piece, titled "Salvator Mundi" ("Savior of the World"), was four times Christie's pre-sale estimate and smashed the world record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction. About 15 others are in museums. Gasps and applause ensued in the packed saleroom.

Pylkkanen eventually hammered the painting at $450 million. Latin for "Savior of the World" - was purchased for $450.3 million by an undisclosed buyer.

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.

All eyes were locked on Lot 9 in a packed salesroom at Christie's auction house in NY during 19 minutes of feverish bidding Wednesday night.

That is the kind of name-brand appeal that Christie's was presumably banking on by placing the painting in its high-profile contemporary art sale, rather than in its less sexy annual old master auction, where it technically belongs. 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.

When the sale was first announced by the auction house back in October, thousands of people visited exhibitions to see the painting including in cities like New York, San Francisco, London, as well as Hong Kong. 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.

Leonardo painted "Salvator Mundi" around the same time as the "Mona Lisa", and the two works of art "bear a patent compositional likeness", Gouzer said.

"It's an extraordinary price for an extraordinary painting".

"He was a genius of his time and people still see him as that".

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

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.

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.

  • Kyle Peterson