A bidding war on November 15 led to the sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” (Savior of the World) for $450.3 million, setting the new record for any work of art sold.
Park West Gallery Founder and CEO Albert Scaglione discussed the historic auction during a radio interview on WJR NewsTalk 760. Scaglione said he was “somewhat shocked,” but not surprised by the multimillion-dollar sale, pointing to the rare nature of the painting.
The artwork is one of the few attributed to da Vinci still in existence and the only one held privately. All of the artist’s remaining works are in museums.
“It’s rarity,” Scaglione said. “One of the greatest artists ever to live and the only painting you can buy is this one. I’m not surprised.”
The sale obliterates the previous records, both of which were set in 2015. Pablo Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger, Version O” (Women of Algiers, Version O) sold for $179.4 million in a public auction, while Willem de Kooning’s “Interchange” was purchased in a private sale for around $300 million.
The auction, conducted by Christie’s, started bidding at $75 million. After 19 minutes, the winning bid was a tremendous $400 million, with $50.3 million included as a premium to Christie’s.
“Salvator Mundi” dates back to the early 1500s. The painting, which is on a 26-inch-tall wood panel, depicts Jesus Christ dressed in a blue garb holding a crystal orb in his left hand and giving a blessing with his right.
The painting was commissioned by Louis XII of France and subsequently owned by King Charles I of England in 1649. The artwork was then auctioned by the son of the Duke of Buckingham and Normandy in 1763 before disappearing soon after. It resurfaced in 1900, and in 2005, a consortium of art dealers acquired it and restored it.
At the time of the interview, the buyer had yet to be identified. Scaglione speculated it may have been bought by a collector from Qatar or China. In 2011 and 2012, the work was shown at the National Gallery in London during its “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan” exhibition.
“I’m so excited about the fact that a da Vinci painting surfaced like this,” Scaglione said.
An Authentic Leonardo
Most scholars attribute the painting to Leonardo, though others are skeptical. As a result, the painting’s price has varied throughout its history, ranging from £45 ($59) in 1958 to $10,000 in 2005 to $200 million in 2012. Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev purchased it for $127.5 million in 2013 before offering it up for the November 15 auction.
The intricate curls of hair, the detailed hands, and the presence of the sfumato technique (fine shading to transition between color and tones) indicate it is a genuine work by Leonardo. However, some scholars point to details such as the crystal orb’s unrealistic depiction and its overall composition to suggest that it might not be authentic.
“There is always, always, always going to be somebody saying, ‘Wrong, no, it’s no good,’” Scaglione said. “This painting was examined for periods of time by experts… and they really determined it is the one owned by the King of England.”
Authenticity dispute aside, Park West Gallery Director Morris Shapiro views the sale as a good sign.
“Even in our age of unprecedented transformation in culture, society and commerce wrought by the digital revolution, the fact that a 500 year-old painting (essentially just pigment on wood) can fetch such an astonishing price, suggests that we still assign great value to the treasures of human creation and that some things still remain right in this world,” Shapiro says.
Scaglione said those interested in viewing authentic artwork even older than “Salvator Mundi” can visit Park West Museum to view a rare illuminated manuscript created in the 13th and 14th centuries. The museum, which is free to the public, is located in Southfield, Michigan.