By Shalini Pandey
An anonymous buyer purchased Leonardo da Vinci’s painting ‘Salvator Mundi’—thought to be the last of the artist’s works still in private hands—for $450 million at Christie’s in New York. More than 27,000 people flocked to see the piece as it made its way around the world as part of Christie’s marketing campaign. The picture, of a serene-looking Christ, dressed in blue and holding an orb, is one of fewer than twenty works by Leonardo still in existence and was one of only ten in history to be sold at auction. Christie’s museum, which sold the work, is bound by the usual confidentiality agreements and did not comment on the buyer’s identity.
The winning bid for the piece, titled ‘Salvator Mundi’ which translates as ‘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. The sale far surpassed previous world records, including Pablo Picasso’s ‘Women of Algiers’ that fetched $179.4 million at Christie’s in May 2015. According to The New York Times, the piece was sold by the family trust of Russian billionaire collector Dmitry Rybolovlev, who had reportedly purchased it in May 2013 for $127.5 million.
What made the painting worth $450 million?
Many have attributed the auction success of ‘Salvator Mundi’ to a triumph of marketing as much as market appetite. Christie’s decision to put the work—thought to have been painted in early 1500—in its post-war and contemporary sale section rather than in an old masters sale may have played a role in this. The museum staff also toured the painting around the world, generating enormous global hype, and billed the auction as a “once-in-a-lifetime sale”.Image credits: Chron.com/ http://www.chron.com/entertainment/article/Mystery-Leonardo-da-Vinci-painting-Salvator-Mundi-12291400.php
Loic Gouzer, the chairman of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art department, said the work of art attracted crowds of people while on exhibition in Hong Kong, San Francisco, London and New York in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s auction. “We toured Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi around the world, and at every stop crowds of people were drawn to this painting, wanting to stand in front of the picture and experience it in person,” Gouzer said after the sale. “Even for me, it is very difficult to pinpoint what it is that makes this painting so poignant, you cannot comprehend the mystery of Leonardo. That is the magic of his work.”
Leonardo painted ‘Salvator Mundi’ around the same time as the ‘Mona Lisa,’ and the two works of art “bear a patent compositional likeness,” according to Gouzer. Francois de Poortere, the head of Christie’s old master paintings department, said that the painting has been referred to as the “Male Mona Lisa.”
Billed by Christie’s as “the last da Vinci,” it is the only known painting by the Italian Renaissance artist still in a private collection. It is said to be one of a small number of paintings from Leonardo’s own hand that still exist.
The origin of Salvator Mundi is shrouded in mystery
According to Christie’s, the painting once belonged to King Charles I of England in the mid-1600s. It was recorded at a 1763 sale and then vanished until 1900, when it was acquired by Sir Charles Robinson, an art collector. By this time, Christ’s face and hair had been painted over and the painting’s authorship and illustrious royal history had been forgotten.
The painting was consigned to a sale at Sotheby’s auction house in 1958 where it fetched just 45 British pounds. The artwork disappeared once again for almost 50 years, leaving many scholars to believe it had been destroyed until it resurfaced in 2005 when it was purchased at an American estate sale.
Rediscovery of the ‘last da Vinci’
‘Salvator Mundi’ was attributed to Leonardo after six years of restoration and research, becoming the first discovery of a painting by the Renaissance master since 1909, according to Christie’s. It was dubbed “the greatest artistic rediscovery of the 21st century.” Francois de Poortere recalls the moment the work was unveiled to the public: “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.”
Prior to Wednesday’s highly anticipated sale, Christie’s had secured a guaranteed bid for the painting of at least $100 million by an anonymous investor. Christie’s senior specialist Alan Wintermute said witnessing the masterpiece appear at auction is “as close as I’ve come to an art world miracle.”
Guy Jennings, managing director of Fine Art Group, was at the sale just as he was in the room 30 years ago when Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ sold for £24m, smashing the then record of £8.5m. “That was three times the world record and there was the same sense of awe and gasps and wonder. This is the same kind of quantum leap.” To an outsider, the price may seem insane, a view which is not entirely dismissed by Jennings. “It is a reflection of the massive, massive, massive disproportion of wealth that people are able to play these kinds of games. It is a symptom of a madness which is already there.”
Whoever purchased the painting is not likely to be able to keep it a secret for long. Such a high profile purchase in the age of social media and gossip is hard to keep under wraps. And the price suggests that the buyer is likely to want to put it in a museum for all the world to see.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia
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