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Christie’s Hong Kong unveils lost Da Vinci masterwork

Oct 16, 2017

Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' (photo c/o Christie's Hong Kong)

Christie’s has recently unveiled what they described as the “Holy Grail” of painting, ‘Salvator Mundi’ by Leonardo da Vinci. Heralding it as “the greatest rediscovery of the 21st century”, it is one of fewer than 20 paintings by the great master known to exist. It is also the last Da Vinci masterwork to be held in private hands; the rest are all in museums around Europe and America. The painting will be offered at Christie’s New York Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale at the Rockefeller Centre on November 15, having travelled for a series of short public exhibitions in Hong Kong (Oct 13-16), San Francisco (Oct17-21), and London (Oct 24-26) before finally heading to the Big Apple (Oct 28-Nov 4).

Dating from around 1500, the enigmatic oil-on-panel painting depicts a half-length figure of Christ as Saviour of the World, facing frontally and dressed in flowing robes of lapis and crimson. He holds a crystal orb in his left hand as he raises his right hand in benediction. The painting was long believed to have existed but was generally presumed to have been destroyed until it was rediscovered in 2005.

“Salvator Mundi is a painting of the most iconic figure in the world by the most important artist of all time,” says Loic Gouzer, Christie’s Chairman, Post-War and Contemporary Art, New York. “It was painted in the same timeframe as the Mona Lisa, and they bear a patent compositional likeness.” Interestingly, the painting was first recorded in the Royal collection of King Charles 1 (1600-1649), and later in the collection of Charles II.

During the interviewing five hundred years, the painting changed hands, disappeared, resurfaced and disappeared again, only for its illustrious provenance to have been forgotten and even Christ’s face and hair overpainted. Following its rediscovery in 2005, there followed six years of painstaking research to document its authenticity with the world’s leading authorities on da Vinci.

When in 2011, the painting was publicly unveiled at the exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at The National Gallery, London, it caused a sensation.

Says Alan Wintermute, Senior Specialist, Old Master Paintings at Christie’s: “To see a fully finished, later masterpiece by Leonardo, made at the peak of his genius, appear for sale in 2017, is as close as I’ve come to an Art World Miracle. I can hardly convey how exciting it is.”

Christie’s are estimating it to be a US$100 million art world miracle. #legend anticipates 200 million reasons why that might be higher.  


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Stephen Short