Art Historian Creates NFT Version of Leonardo da Vinci’s 'Salvator Mundi'—And It’s Coming Up for Auction

Courtesy Ben Lewis

The unique piece creates a new conversation around classic masterpieces.

Non-fungible tokens (NFT) are all the rage lately after several big auctions took place. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sold his first-ever tweet for $2.9 million, while a digital artist named Beeple sold a work for $69.3 million at Christie's. Even luxury jewelry and watchmaker Jacob & Co. released its first-ever digital watch through an NFT platform. Now, an art historian and transforming a masterpiece into a crypto one.

Ben Lewis created an NFT that reimagines Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi. He calls it Salvator Metaverse, and it features the same portrait as the original. It's just the man is holding a stack of $100 bills instead of the glass orb. The reason for this is Lewis wanted to make a commentary on the exploitative nature of the art world that he wrote about in his 2019 book The Last Leonardo.

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Salvator Metaversi NFT by Ben Lewis
Courtesy Ben Lewis

In it, he follows the story of the most expensive painting ever sold at auction: Salvator Mundi. The portrait was discovered in 2005 at a tiny New Orleans auction house in bad condition. Basil Hendry sold it to prominent art dealers for just $1,175. They sold it for $80 million, and it immediately sold again for $127.5 million. Then in 2017, it hit the auction block at Christie's, where it sold for $450 million.

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"It's just not fair," Lewis told Artnet news. "The dealers—Robert Simon, Alex Parish, Dmitry Rybolovlev—they all made tens of millions. It would be great if they sent a bit of money down to this family. And I thought, to bring out that point, I'd turn this into an NFT."

Lewis hopes the NFT version would fetch the same $450 million, although he knows that's unlikely. Right now, the winning bid is 1.088 etherium, which is worth about $2,300. While he will split any profit with the Hendry family, the art historian hopes this crypto art will keep the conversation of the unfair art world alive.