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Leonardo da Vinci Painting Shatters Auction Records, Selling for $450.3 Million

At Christie’s postwar and contemporary art evening auction at Rockefeller Center in New York on Wednesday, November 15, the most anticipated artwork of the night, a five-hundred-year-old painting by Leonardo da Vinci, made history when it sold for $450.3 million—the highest price ever paid for an artwork.

Purchased by an anonymous client who was on the phone with Christie’s department head Alex Rotter, the work far surpassed the previous record for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, Pablo Picasso’s The Women of Algiers, which netted $179.4 million at Christie’s in 2015.

Titled Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World), it is the only known painting by the Renaissance master to be owned by a private collector. In a massive marketing campaign in the days leading up to the auction, Christie’s called the work “the last da Vinci.”

The painting, which was originally commissioned for the French Royal Collection, went missing for several decades before it reappeared at an estate sale in 2005. The dealers who found it sold it to Yves Bouvier, the former owner of a freeport in Geneva known as Natural Le Coultre, for around $80 million. Bouvier then notoriously resold the piece to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for $127.5 million. The roughly $50 million mark up prompted a legal battle between the two parties that still hasn’t been resolved.

When Rybolovlev consigned the work to Christie's, it came with a $100 million guarantee from an unknown collector. Since the individual committed to buying the painting in advance, he will receive a portion of the profits from the sale.

The amount netted by the work made up more than half of the total raised by the rest of the lots at the auction. The evening brought in $785.9 million, with an 84 percent sell-through rate.

Among the other highlights of the auction were Andy Warhol’s Sixty Last Suppers, 1986—the largest painting by the American Pop artist ever to come to auction—which sold for $60,875,000; Cy Twombly’s Untitled, 2005, from his “Bacchus” series, brought in $46,437,500; and Mark Rothko’s Saffron, 1957, was purchased for $32,375,000.

“It’s difficult to find words after such an evening,” Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti said at a press conference at the conclusion of the sale. “But certainly, this is a great moment for the art market.”