Long believed to have been destroyed, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” (c.1500) was rediscovered in 2005 and is now going to auction. But this isn’t any conventional painting, of course, it is extraordinarily rare work and one of only 20 known paintings by one of the masters of the Italian Renaissance. To say this is an important auction is an understatement, but art world consensus on the authorship is also not unanimous — so make of that what you will.
The oil on panel work depicts a half-length figure of Christ as Savior of the World (aka Salvator Mundi), facing frontally and dressed in robes of lapis and crimson. He holds a finely painted crystal orb in his left hand as he raises his right hand in benediction.
What’s the provenance of the work? It was first recorded in the Royal collection of King Charles I (1600–1649) and it was believed to be hung in the private chambers of Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I, in her palace in Greenwich; it was later in the collection of Charles II. The painting was then recorded in a 1763 sale by Charles Herbert Sheffield, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham, who put it up for auction.
Then it disappeared from the written records until 1900 when it was acquired by Sir Charles Robinson as a work by Leonardo’s follower, Bernardino Luini, for the Cook Collection, Doughty House, Richmond. By this time, the painting’s authorship, origins, and royal history had been forgotten, and Christ’s face and hair were overpainted by another artist. When the Cook Collection was disperse, it was ultimately consigned to a sale at Sotheby’s in 1958 where it sold for £45 (~159 in USD, or ~1,339 USD today) — yes, you read that right.
It disappeared once again and emerged in 2005 when it was purchased from a US estate at a small regional auction house. Its rediscovery was followed by six years of research to prove its origins (and justify the price). In 2011, the painting was part of the Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition at The National Gallery, London.
Now is your chance to snag the last known Leonardo in private hands, and it will go to auction at Christie’s Evening Sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art on November 15, 2017 in Rockefeller Plaza. The estimate is in the region of $100 million US, though many auction watchers are assuming the final price tag may well exceed that number.