A painting of Christ by the Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci sold for a record $450 million at auction on Wednesday, obliterating previous records. The painting, called "Salvator Mundi" (Italian for "Savior of the World"), is one of fewer than 20 paintings by Leonardo known to exist and the only one in private hands. It was sold by Christie's auction house, which didn't immediately identify the buyer. The highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction had been $179.4 million, for Picasso's "Women of Algiers (Version O)" in May 2015, also at Christie's in New York. The highest known sale price for any artwork had been $300 million, for Willem de Kooning's "Interchange," sold privately in September 2015 by the David Geffen Foundation to hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin, reports the AP.
The 26-inch-tall painting's path from Leonardo's workshop to the auction block was not smooth. Once owned by King Charles I of England, it disappeared from view until 1900, when it resurfaced and was acquired by a British collector. At that time it was attributed to a Leonardo disciple. The painting was ultimately acquired in 2005, badly damaged and partly painted-over, by a consortium of art dealers who paid less than $10,000. They restored the painting and documented its authenticity. The painting was sold Wednesday by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who bought it in 2013 for $127.5 million in a private sale that became the subject of a continuing lawsuit. Christie's says most scholars agree that the painting is by Leonardo, though some have questioned the attribution and some say the extensive restoration muddies the work's authorship.