Most Expensive Work of Art Ever Sold - Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi Sells for Record-Shattering US$450.3m at Christie’s New York

Salvator Mundi, the last Leonardo da Vinci Painting in private hands, was sold for a record-shattering US$450.3m on 15 November (Wednesday) at Christie’s New York. It fetched more than four times its pre-sale estimate of US$100 million.

Salvator Mundi, a portrait of Jesus Christ, is one of fewer than 20 surviving paintings by Leonardo, and the only one in private hands. While the rest of Leonardo paintings are housed in museums, galleries or churches.

Christie’s Rockefeller Center auction room was packed with a rapt audience of nearly 1,000 art collectors, dealers, advisors, journalists and onlookers. When it came to selling lot no.9, the high-anticipated Da Vinci’s painting, an intense bidding battle began.

Jussi Pylkkanen, the auctioneer of the sale, also the Global President of Christie's

Francois de Poortere (the one with his arm raised)  and Alex Rotter (the one on the right)

Jussi Pylkkanen, the auctioneer of the sale, asked for US$70m as the opening bid. The painting soon elicited bidding by the four telephone bidders and one in the room. Once the price reached US$200m, the contest boiled down to two telephone bidders – represented respectively by Francois de Poortere, the head of Christie's Old Master Painting department and Alex Rotter, Co-Chairmen of the Post-War and Contemporary Art department in the Americas.

The bid increment was lowered from US$10m to US$5m and then from US$5m to US$2m as the duel continued. Jussi Pylkkänen brought the hammer down at US$400m after a 20-minute bidding battle, followed by a round of applause in the saleroom. The painting was finally sold for a historic US$450.3m to Alex Rotter’s client, whose identity remains anonymous.

The rediscovered masterpiece broke the record previously held by Picasso’s Women of Algiers, which fetched $179.4 million at Christie’s in May 2015.

Regarding the seller of the painting, no information other than “European private collector” has been revealed by Christie’s. But the art market has widely identified the seller as Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev (image above).

He bought the painting for US$127.5m in 2013 and later suspected himself being ripped off by Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier (image above). Yves Bouvier bought the Da Vinci’s painting for US$80m in 2013 and immediately resold it to Rybolovlev, overcharging US$47.5m for profit. The lawsuit between the two is not yet settled but Rybolovlev is now surely overjoyed with the eye-watering US$450.3m the painting fetched.

Leonardo a Vinci (1452-1519). Salvator Mundi.

Lot no.: 9B
Size: 65.7 x 45.7cm


  • (Possibly) Commissioned after 1500 by King Louis XII of France (1462-1515) and his wife, Anne of Brittany (1477-1514), following the conquest of Milan and Genoa, and possibly by descent to 
  • Henrietta Maria of France (1609-1669), by whom possibly brought to England in 1625 upon her marriage to
  • King Charles I of England (1600-1649), Greenwich; Commonwealth Sale, as ‘A peece of Christ done by Leonardo at 30- 00- 00’, presented, 23 October 1651, as part of the Sixth Dividend to
  • Captain John Stone (1620-1667), leader of the Sixth Dividend of creditors, until 1660, when it was returned with other works upon the Restoration to
  • King Charles II of England (1630-1685), Whitehall, and probably by inheritance to his brother
  • King James II of England (1633-1701), Whitehall, from which probably removed by
  • Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester (1657-1717), or her future son-in-law, John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby (1648-1721), and probably by descent to his illegitimate son
  • Sir Charles Herbert Sheffield, 1st Bt. (c. 1706-1774); John Prestage, London, 24 February 1763, lot 53, as ‘L. Da. Vinci A head of our Saviour’ (£2.10).
  • Sir [John] Charles Robinson (1824-1913), as Bernardino Luini; by whom sold in 1900 to
  • Sir Francis Cook, 1st Bt. (1817-1901), Doughty House, Richmond, and by descent through
  • Sir Frederick [Lucas] Cook, 2nd Bt. (1844-1920), Doughty House, Richmond, and 
  • Sir Herbert [Frederick] Cook, 3rd Bt. (1868-1939), Doughty House, Richmond, as ‘Free copy after Boltraffio’ and later ‘Milanese School’, to
  • Sir Francis [Ferdinand Maurice] Cook, 4th Bt. (1907-1978); his sale, Sotheby’s, London, 25 June 1958, lot 40, as ‘Boltraffio’ (£45 to Kuntz).
  • Private collection, United States.
  • Robert Simon, New York.
  • Private sale; Sotheby’s, New York.
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner.

Estimate: US$100,000,000
Hammer price: US$400,000,000
Price realized: US$450,312,500

Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Auction date: 2017/11/15

(All prices realized have included buyer’s premium unless otherwise specified)