‘Leonardo da Vinci artwork’ expected to sell for record sum


'Leonardo da Vinci artwork' expected to sell for record sum

Image copyright Christie's
Image caption The painting has been cleaned and restored from the image on the left to the one on the right

A 500-year-old painting of Christ believed to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci is due to be sold in New York for up to $150m (£114m).

The painting is known as Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World).

It is thought that it will be the highest auction price for a work by an Old Master – the artists who painted in Europe before the 19th Century.

Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519 and there are fewer than 20 of his paintings in existence.

Just one is thought to be in private hands – the Salvator Mundi, believed to have been painted sometime after 1505.

It shows Christ with one hand raised, the other holding a glass sphere.

In 1958 it was sold at auction in London for $60. By then the painting was generally reckoned to be the work of a follower of Leonardo and not the work of Leonardo himself.

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Media captionSalvator Mundi was discovered hidden under layers of paint

BBC arts correspondent Vincent Dowd says that even now, the attribution to Leonardo is not universally accepted.

One critic even described the surface of the painting to be "inert, varnished, lurid, scrubbed over and repainted so many times that it looks simultaneously new and old".

"Any private collector who gets suckered into buying this picture and places it in their apartment or storage, it serves them right," Jenny Saltz wrote on

But Christie's insist the painting is authentic and have billed it as "the greatest artistic rediscovery of the 20th century".

When in 2005 the Salvator Mundi re-emerged from obscurity, it created huge public interest as a "lost Leonardo".

Four years ago it was bought by a Russian collector for $127.5m (£98m) – but that was a private sale, not at auction.

Now Christie's in New York are placing a starting bid of $100m, but they are hoping it goes for far more at its auction of post-war and contemporary art.

Because prices for Old Masters have been static, the auction house believes that it is a wise move to give the portrait a guest-slot next to modern work.

That way, it feels, potential buyers will see Salvator Mundi not as a solemn religious relic but as an exciting work of art.

Salvator Mundi – da Vinci's 'mysterious masterpiece'

  • The painting is being sold by the family trust of the Russian billionaire collector Dmitry E Rybolovlev, who is reported to have bought it in May 2013
  • It apparently once belonged to King Charles I of England in the 1500s and was "rediscovered" in 2005
  • Dr Tim Hunter, who is a specialist in Old Master and 19th Century paintings, says it is "the biggest discovery of the 21st Century"
  • The painting has had major cosmetic surgery – its walnut panel base has been described as "worm-tunnelled" and at some point it seems to have been split in half – and efforts to restore it resulted in abrasions
  • The previous top painting sale was Picasso's Women of Algiers, which sold for $160m

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 -1519)

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