A portrait of one of history and religion’s greatest figures, painted by one of the world’s greatest artists, will soon be sold by one of art’s most prolific auction houses—a confluence of superlatives that will make it among most expensive pieces of art ever sold at auction. The work is Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvador Mundi, a 500 year-old portrait of Jesus Christ that was originally painted for the French royal family, and it will be sold by Christie’s in New York, on Nov. 15. Bids are expected to top $100 million.
One of just 20 known paintings by da Vinci, whose works also include the Last Supper, and Vitruvian Man, Salvador Mundi was painted in the same timeframe as the artist’s most popular portrait, Mona Lisa, and bears similar characteristics, say art critics. “Standing in front of [da Vinci’s] paintings, it becomes impossible for one’s mind to fully unravel or comprehend the mystery radiating from them—both the Mona Lisa and Salvator Mundi are perfect examples of this,” says Loic Gouzer, Christie’s chairman of post-war and contemporary art.
Not only remarkable for its beauty, the painting’s backstory is also breathtaking. Originally painted for the French royal family around 1500, the portrait was thought to be lost from 1763 to 1900. It had been sold at auction for just £45 in 1958, after which it disappeared again until 2005, when it was purchased from an American estate, says Christie’s.
“The Salvator Mundi is the Holy Grail of old master paintings. Long-known to have existed, and long-sought after, it seemed just a tantalizingly unobtainable dream until now,” says Alan Wintermute, Christie’s senior specialist of old master paintings. “To see a fully finished, late 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.”
The da Vinci piece will be auctioned alongside Andy Warhol’s final silk-screen, Sixty Last Suppers.