Lost Leonardo da Vinci painting to sell for US$100 million at auction

Christie's employees pose in front of a painting entitled Salvator Mundi by Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci at a photocall at Christie's auction house in central London on October 22, 2017 ahead of its sale at Christie's New York on November 15, 2017. Tolga Akmen / Getty Images

History will be made Wednesday night when a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci painting of Jesus will be auctioned off and become the only da Vinci in a private collection, the Washington Post reports.

The painting is guaranteed to sell for at least US$100 million through Christie’s in New York City. What makes it special, however, is the fact that it is the last of the 16 surviving paintings done by the artist.

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The piece, called Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World), shows Jesus clothed in a blue robe trimmed in gold; his right hand is held up in blessing and his left hand holding a clear orb, which is meant to represent the world.

Much of the portrait’s whereabouts were cloaked in mystery up until 2005 when the painting underwent a six-year restoration and verification process. Once finished, the piece was publicly unveiled at London’s National Gallery in the 2011 exhibit called “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter in the Court of Milan,” the New York Times says.

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According to CNN, da Vinci painted Salvator Mundi in the early 1500s, but copies and imitations were made throughout history leaving many to think the original was lost for good.

What historians know is that the piece was part of King Charles I of England’s royal collection, History details.

It then disappeared in 1763 and didn’t resurface until 1900 when Sir Charles Robinson bought it for the Cook Collection in London, the Washington Post adds. At this point, though, the painting was no longer attributed to da Vinci, but his follower Bernardino Luini. The collection was then auctioned off in pieces in 1958, with da Vinci’s creation selling for only 45 pounds, or US$125, CNN says.

The painting was again lost for another 50 years then resurfaced in Louisiana in 2005. New York art collector Robert Simon and art dealer Alexander Parish then purchased it, the New Orleans Advocate reports.

“It was a very interesting painting but it’s not something I looked at and thought, ‘Oh my god, it must be a Leonardo,” Simon said to CNN. “The whole idea that it might be by him was almost an impossibility; it’s kind of a dream.”

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The last da Vinci painting to be discovered and verified before the Salvator Mundi was Benois Madonna, also known as Madonna and Child with Flowers, in 1909, the Washington Post reports.

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It wasn’t until 2011 when the art community accepted the painting as a work from da Vinci himself.

And in 2013, art dealers Simon, Parish and Warren Adelson sold the work for US$80 million to Yves Bouvier, another art dealer out of Switzerland, Bloomberg reports. The following year, Bouvier then sold it to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for US$127.5 million.

When Rybolovlev learned that he had been sold the painting for nearly a US$50 markup, the Washington Post says an ongoing dispute with suits and countersuits was sparked between the Russian collector and Bouvier.

So if the painting is only sold for US$100 million, then that means Rybolovlev will lose US$27.5 million.

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