Why art's elephant bucks are behind astonishing da Vinci sale

To the 27,000 people who lined up at pre-auction viewings in Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and NY to glimpse the painting of Christ as "Savior of the World", this was merely the chance to lay their eyes on what Christie's billed as "the Last da Vinci", the only known painting by the Renaissance master still in a private collection (some 15 others are in museums).

"Salvator Mundi" was attributed to Leonardo after six years of restoration and research, becoming the first discovery of a painting by the Renaissance master since 1909, according to Christie's.

For years it was presumed to have been destroyed, emerging only in 2005 when it was purchased from a United States estate.

The painting was first recorded in the Royal collection of King Charles I (1600-1649), and thought to have hung in the private chambers of Henrietta Maria - the wife of King Charles I - in her palace in Greenwich, and was later in the collection of Charles II.

The previous record for a painting sold at auction was Pablo Picasso's Women of Algiers, painted in 1955, which went for nearly $180 million in 2015.

Dating from around 1500, the haunting oil on panel painting depicts a half-length figure of Christ as Savior of the World, facing frontally and dressed in flowing robes of lapis and crimson.

Salvator Mundi is a depiction of Christ, with a raised right hand and a glass sphere in his left.

Lost for years only to resurface at a regional auction in 2005, it is one of fewer than 20 Da Vinci paintings generally accepted as being from the Renaissance master's own hand, according to Christie's. While reports have investigated various sensitive mysteries about the work such as reflections in its globe, reports say that it was guaranteed for $80 million, making a sale certain.

3 - Nu couché, a canvas of Amedeo MODIGLIANI, reached 170,4 million at a sale by the same auction house in November 2015. "The excitement from the public for this work of art has been overwhelming and hugely heartening".

The painting has an interesting sales history. "It has been more than a century since the last such painting turned up and this opportunity will not come again in our lifetime".

"The composition doesn't come from Leonardo", said Jacques Franck, a Paris-based art historian and Leonardo specialist. "Long known to have existed, and long sought after, it seemed just a tantalizingly unobtainable dream until now", Wintermute said.

Francois de Poortere, Head of Old Master Paintings, added: "It is an honor to be entrusted with the sale of this mystical masterpiece".

In New York, where no museum owns a Leonardo, art lovers lined up outside Christie's Rockefeller Center headquarters on Tuesday to view "Salvator Mundi". It was, said Cerutti, 'a great moment for Christie's and a great moment for the art market'.

  • Marlene Weaver