It was hailed as the greatest artistic find of the past 50 years, a masterpiece disguised behind amateur layers of paint and found festering in obscurity at a regional art auction.
Now, for the first time since its rediscovery in 2005, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi is to be put up for auction at Christie’s in New York on Wednesday.
And in a first for an old master painted 500 years ago, it will be the star item in a sale otherwise made up of postwar and contemporary art.
Loic Gouzer of Christie’s described it as a “once-in-a-lifetime sale”.
“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,” he said. “We felt that offering this painting within the context of our postwar and contemporary evening sale is a testament to the enduring relevance of this picture.”
Found in 2005 at a regional auction in the US, when it had been overpainted, given additions such as a crude beard and long mistaken for a copy, Salvator Mundi was the first new Leonardo painting to be discovered since 1909.
After a lengthy restoration it was unveiled to the world with much furore in 2011 at the National Gallery’s exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan. Featuring an image of Christ with an elusive and ethereal expression, it was dubbed the “male Mona Lisa”, and a recent condition report by Christie’s revealed Leonardo used at least five thin layers of glazing to build up the flesh tones of Christ’s face – the same technique he used in the Mona Lisa.
It is being sold by the family trust of the Russian billionaire collector – and owner of French football club AS Monaco – Dmitry Rybolovlev, who bought it in 2013 for $127.5m, and is expected to sell for at least $100m, breaking the record for an old master sold at auction. Read more