Fewer Than 20 da Vinci Paintings Survive. A New Fate for One

The 'Salvator Mundi' will hit the block at Christie's on Nov. 15
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 14, 2017 8:13 AM CDT
Fewer Than 20 da Vinci Paintings Survive. A New Fate for One
Security guards open a door to reveal "Salvator Mundi" by Leonardo da Vinci during a news conference at Christie's in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. The piece, which was painted around 1500, is one of fewer than twenty da Vinci paintings known to exist.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

A painting will hit the block at Christie's in New York on Nov. 15, and it's tough to say what's more interesting: that it could fetch $100 million, or the story behind it. As the Wall Street Journal reports, getting to nine figures would be an auction record for a painting by an old master—that is, a European who painted before about 1800. But not just any old master: Leonardo da Vinci. His "Salvator Mundi," or the savior of the world, is one of fewer than 20 da Vincis known to exist, and all the others are held by museums. It's currently owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who will likely be selling it at a loss. He bought it in 2013 for $127.5 million, and per his rep, "the forthcoming auction of this work will finally bring to an end a very painful chapter."

The pain he's referring to relates to Rybolovlev's dealings with Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, who counted Rybolovlev among his clients. Bouvier himself had purchased the work privately for $80 million; the 60% increase in price spurred allegations of fraud and ongoing court cases. But the drama began before then, with what Christie's calls "the greatest artistic rediscovery of the 21st century." It says it's known the painting belonged to both King Charles I of England and King Charles II, but the painting was lost from 1763 until 1900 when the work—which had "extensive repainting" over Jesus' face and hair—was purchased as a work attributed to one of da Vinci's followers. It sold at auction in 1958 for what Quartz reports was $60. A group of art dealers bought it in 2005, painstakingly restored it, and announced their find, the first da Vinci to be discovered since 1909. (This recent da Vinci discovery involves a nude Mona Lisa.)

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