An Incredibly Rare Leonardo Da Vinci Painting Is Set to Auction for $100 Million

The story behind this work of art is fascinating.

It's being hailed as one of the biggest artistic discoveries of the 21st century, and it's about to head on a world tour. Salvator Mundi, the only Leonardo da Vinci painting currently in private hands, is going to be exhibited in locations around the world — and then put up for auction. Christie's expects it to sell for around $100 million.

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Christie's

Salvator Mundi, which was painted around the year 1500, was presumed to have been destroyed at some point before it was discovered in 2005. It was the first time since 1909 a Leonardo da Vinci painting was discovered in private hands. The painting portrays Jesus as the savior of the world, holding a crystal orb and raising his right hand in benediction. It is one of fewer than 20 known paintings by da Vinci.

The painting hung in the private chambers of the wife of Britain's King Charles I, and exchanged hands several times before 1763. That year it was sold by Charles Herbert Sheffield, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham, who put it up for auction following the sale of what is now Buckingham Palace to the English monarchy.

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The painting's provenance then gets murky and there are no records of it until it was bought by Sir Charles Robinson in 1900. He thought it was painted by Bernardino Luini, a follower of da Vinci, and someone had painted over Jesus's hair and face. Because nobody knew it was a da Vinci, it later sold in 1958 for a mere $60 (around $500 in today's dollars).

In 2005, it was rediscovered, and researchers took six years to prove it was by da Vinci; in 2011, it was formally presented to the public at the National Gallery in London. Now, Christie's auction house will take the painting on tour. It will hit Hong Kong, San Francisco, London, and New York on a tour starting October 13 and ending November 4. On November 15, it will be sold in New York.

"Salvator Mundi was painted in the same timeframe as the Mona Lisa, and they bear a patent compositional likeness," Loic Gouzer, chairman of Christie's post-war and contemporary art department, said in a press release. "Standing in front of his 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. No one will ever be able to fully grasp the wonder of Leonardo's paintings, just as no one will ever be able to fully know the origins of the universe."

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