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“Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci was sold at Christie's for a world record $450 million

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On 15 November 2017, "Salvator Mundi", the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in private hands, has changed its owner for $450.3 million, including auction house premium, at the Christie’s, setting a new world record at art works auctions.
Lost but found, a precious late masterpiece "Salvator Mundi" or "Savior of the World" painted by one of the history’s greatest and most renowned artists Leonardo da Vinci has sold at the Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale on November 15th, 2017. A new happy owner, who bid among the six via telephone, has paid $400 million plus auction house premium, breaking the world record for any art works sold privately or at auction. There is no information about the buyer yet -- the auction house would not reveal his or her identity or even the region he/she comes from for the Christie’s does not know if they want to be public.
Why the buyer has paid 4 times more than was estimated by the Christie’s? Well, let’s clear up the essence of all this fuss about the old oil painting on a wooden 25 7/8×18 in. panel.

Rarity

This masterpiece is one of fewer than twenty surviving paintings generally accepted as from Leonardo’s own hand. And it is the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci that is in private hands, all the rest of works attributed by scholars to the artist held in the world’s museums or institutional collections.
"The opportunity to bring this masterpiece to the market is an honour that comes around once in a lifetime. Despite being created approximately 500 years ago, 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," says Loic Gouzer, Chairman, Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s in New York.

Authorship: difficulties in attribution

Art scholars established the authorship of Da Vinci only in mid-2000s after a comprehensive restoration of the Salvator Mundi in 2007, undertaken by Dianne Dwyer Modestini, Senior Research Fellow and Conservator of the Kress Program in Paintings Conservation at the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She has accomplished a remarkably difficult task. She opened Christ of Da Vinci from several layers of grease, dust and barbarian overpainting made by restaurateurs dozens of times in a long 500-year history of the painting.

As the possibility of Leonardo’s authorship became obvious, the picture was thoroughly studied and examined by a group of international scholars and experts in Leonardo’s works with every possible latest technology verification, and, finally, a consensus about its attribution to Da Vinci have been obtained.

The dramatic public unveiling of the Christ as Salvator Mundi was made in the exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at The National Gallery, London, in 2011, and caused a worldwide media sensation.

Inexact Dating

We don’t know the exact date of the painting. Specialists in Leonardo find it difficult to tell it. Most of them agree upon the "around 1500" term. However, different experts date it from 1495 to 1515.

Some of them place the painting at the end of Leonardo’s Milanese period in the later 1490s, contemporary with The Last Supper and base this idea on the type of a wooden panel Leonardo used as a support. A walnut support was commonly used in Milan at the time. Others believe the picture to be slightly later, painted in Florence (where the artist moved in 1500), contemporary with the Mona Lisa. Like several of Leonardo’s later paintings, the Salvator Mundi was likely executed over a period of years. Mostly, scholars agree that the masterpiece belongs to the artist’s late period, made at the peak of his genius.

Leonardo expert Martin Kemp, who helped authenticate the work, has observed, "The face [of Christ] is very softly painted which is characteristic of Leonardo after 1500. And what very much connects these later Leonardo works is a sense of psychological movement, but also of mystery, of something not quite known. And he draws you in but he doesn’t provide you with answers… It has the uncanny strangeness that the later Leonardo paintings manifest."

Fascinating Rediscovery

In an auction preview, the Christie’s described the painting of Jesus Christ rising his right hand in benediction and holding a crystal orb in his left hand as "the biggest discovery of the 21st century." Provenance of the artwork is indeed complicated and mysterious.

Commissioned by King Louis XII of France at the beginning of 16th century, it eventually moved to the Royal collection of King Charles I in England and then was sold and returned, then again sold several times, switching the owners and losing its authorship as a ‘Free copy after Boltraffio' or ‘Milanese School', or ‘Boltraffio'.

It languished in the obscurity until the mid-20th century when no one thought that it could be by Leonardo but by a follower of a follower. In 1958, it was sold at a Sotheby’s auction as a work by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, an artist emerging from Leonardo’s studio, for only £45. The painting remained elusive for nearly 50 years after that, till it surfaced in 2005 when acquired by a consortium of American dealers for $10,000. These people had the painting restored and authenticated. In a while, it was sold to a Russian oligarch Rybolovlev for $127 million, who consigned it recently to the Chrisie’s for the auction.


"The Salvator Mundi is the Holy Grail of old master paintings. Long known to have existed, and long-sought after, it seemed just a tantalizingly unobtainable dream until now. To see a fully finished, late masterpiece by Leonardo, made at the peak of his genius, appear for sale in 2017 is a close as I’ve come to an Art World Miracle. It has been more than a century since the last such paintings turned up and this opportunity will not come again in our lifetime," said Alan Wintermute, the Christie’s senior specialist in Old Master Paintings, in his statement before the auction.

Powerful promotional pre-auction programme

During the pre-auction program the public could enjoy the painting on a world tour of Christie’s flagships, in Hong Kong, San Francisco, and London. Christie’s said that in total 27,000 people had seen the art work on the pre-sale tour. Finally, it was placed on public display at the Christie’s exhibition space in Rockefeller Center, New York. Queues of people had formed around Rockefeller Plaza to see the canvas that soon were to be hidden in private hands.

Christie’s produced a video of people viewing the masterpiece. They have put the hidden camera beneath the Salvator Mundi to capture the real-life emotions of viewers, from astounding to tears of admiration. Among those who came to view the painting, you can see some celebrities as Leonardo DiCaprio and Patti Smith, and other people well-known in the art world.

Extraordinary memorable picture

The divine moment of connection between the powerful, mysterious, and enigmatic portrayal of Christ executed by Leonardo da Vinci and those who observe it, is unforgettable. The painting is a very touching one. If even we leave aside a religious fervor which this picture might produce in many, it offers a vision of peace which is a complete antidote to our crazy day-to-day life.

A famous art critic Alastair Sooke noticed that the image seems even more mysterious for one feels as though it could suddenly slip off back into the shadows at any moment.

There is a theory among Leonardo experts that Salvator Mundi is a mirror of Da Vinci mind’s essence or soul, an anthropomorphic projection of what makes us truly human and connects us to everything. A crystal orb suggests not only power and cosmic unity but also palette of the artist, his interest in light and lenses, and the purity of his inner eye which was portrayed in the Renaissance as globular. Thus his hand and eye, like craft and vision, combine. As always in Leonardo’s works, there is far more to explain…
Written on materials by the Christie’s, the Guardian, everypainterpaintshimself.com, and other sources. Title illustration: Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Christie’s Auction House.
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