The previous auction record was held by Picasso's "Les Femmes d'Alger," which sold for $179.4 million in 2015.

Leonardo Da Vinci painting sells for record 450 million at New York auctionLeonardo da Vinci via Wikimedia Commons
news News Thursday, November 16, 2017 - 19:06

Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" has become the most expensive artwork to ever sell at an auction, going for $450.3 million at Christie's in New York.

Dating back to around 1500, the rare painting is one of some 16 known surviving paintings, including the "Mona Lisa", by da Vinci, the master of the Italian Renaissance. 

The others are scattered throughout the world's museums. Original estimates had predicted bids of over $100 million for the piece. The identity of the winning bidder was not known, CNN reported.

The new record was set after approximately 20 minutes of telephone bidding, far surpassing the previous auction record held by Picasso's "Les Femmes d'Alger," which sold for $179.4 million in 2015.

"Salvator Mundi" attracted crowds of visitors during pre-auction viewings in London, Hong Kong and San Francisco. It depicts Jesus Christ in Renaissance clothing, one hand raised in blessing and the other holding a crystal orb.

First commissioned by Louis XII of France, the 26-inch-tall by 18-inch-wide oil painting was later owned by England's Charles I. But the artwork had been presumed lost since the late 18th century.

When "Salvator Mundi" reappeared at auction in 1958, it was dismissed as a copy and sold for 45 pounds ($59). 

Acquired by a group of art dealers for less than $10,000 in 2005, the painting -- which was in poor condition and had been heavily overpainted -- was painstakingly restored and subsequently authenticated.

Before the auction, the artwork was owned by Russian billionaire collector Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, who is reported to have bought it for $127.5 million in 2013.

According to critics, 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.

One critic 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".

But Christie's has insisted the painting is authentic and billed it as "the greatest artistic rediscovery of the 20th Century".

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