If you’ve ever wanted to own a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece and you have around $100 million to spare—not counting security, storage, and insurance costs—you may have just one chance. Christie’s announced in New York Tuesday morning that it plans to auction off a newly rediscovered Da Vinci canvas, Salvator Mundi, at its postwar and contemporary art sale on November 15. The work, a portrait of Christ, is one of fewer than 20 known paintings by the quintessential Renaissance man who, between his many other pursuits, hardly had the time to devote to what he is most known for. It’s also the only one in private hands.
Alan Wintermute, Christie’s senior specialist of Old Master paintings, calls it the “Holy Grail of art rediscoveries.” Created around 1500, Salvator Mundi (“Savior of the World”) depicts Christ holding a crystal sphere that represents the globe, and gives him an even subtler smile than the Mona Lisa, which Leonardo painted around the same time. The painting was most likely commissioned for the court of French King Louis XII, though its first confirmed owner was Britain’s Charles I. It was passed around the British aristocracy for a century and a half before reemerging on the market in 1900, when it was acquired by a merchant and art collector named Sir Francis Cook. But by then, no one recognized it as a Leonardo work. It had been mangled by time and by shoddy restorers, who slathered the lord and savior with a layer of paint that Wintermute likens to “kabuki makeup.”
Cook sold the painting at Sotheby’s in 1958 for a cool £45, and then it disappeared again. After it resurfaced at a regional American auction house in 2005, it took six years to properly restore it and authenticate its authorship beyond a doubt. Salvator Mundi was formally reintroduced to the public at a Leonardo exhibition at London’s National Gallery in 2011. It is now being sold by a private European collection.
“Whoever buys this painting will put his name, his museum, his town on the cultural map,” said Loic Gouzer, Christie’s chairman of postwar and contemporary art.
Shortly after the unveiling Tuesday morning, the painting left for a world tour, traveling to Christie’s locations in Hong Kong (October 13-16), San Francisco (October 17-21), and London (October 24-26) before returning to New York, where it will be on view from October 28 to November 4.
The November 15 sale in New York will also feature a more recent masterpiece: Andy Warhol’s Sixty Last Suppers, a 1986 silkscreen grid that gives Leonardo's The Last Supper the Marilyn Monroe treatment. The estimate? A far more affordable $50 million.