A da Vinci painting bought 12 years ago for $13,000 just sold for $593 million

Agents speak on their phones with clients while bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ at Christie’s in New York City. Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

A painting known as the “male Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci smashed auction records last night when it was sold for $US450,312,500 ($AU593m, inc. buyer’s premium).

“Salvator Mundi”, a portrait of Christ as ‘Saviour of the World’ is one of just 20 da Vinci paintings in existence and the only one outside of an art museum and is believed to date from around 1506, having been painted in Florence for Louis XII of France.

The work subsequently belonged to Charles I of England around 140 years later and disappeared for nearly 250 years before ending up in the hands of a British collector, Sir Francis Cook, in 1900. His family sold it in 1958 for £45 in poor condition.

In 2005, a consortium of art dealers, including New York Old Masters expert Robert Simon, bought the painting at auction for $US10,000 ($AU13,200) restored the work and set about having it authenticated.

The work was accepted as an authentic da Vinci when it was included in a 2011 exhibition of the artist’s works at London’s National Gallery, and two years later it was sold to the billionaire Russian oligarch painting Dmitry Rybolovlev for US$127.5 million ($AU168m).

‘Salvator Mundi’ by Leonardo da Vinci at Christie’s New York Auction House. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Nearly 30,000 people came to see the work when Christie’s displayed it in Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and New York.

Rybolovlev put the painting up for auction through Christie’s in New York last night and the sale of Lot 9 turned into a 20-minute heavyweight title fight between to two unknown buyers that smashed all previous auction records, having started with a price estimate of $US100 million.

Punches were thrown by the millions, with the price jumping from $US332 million to $US350 million in one bid, then, after 18 minutes, from $US370 million to $US400 million, the price the hammer came down on.

The sale price is more than 2.5 times the previous record of $US179,364,992 for Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’). The previous record for an Old Master painting was $US76.7 million for Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens in 2002. The previous record for a da Vinci was a work on paper, Horse and Rider, which sold for $US11,481,865 in 2001.

Christie’s co-chairman Alex Rotter made the winning bid for an unknown client on the phone.

The auction house’s global president Jussi Pylkkänen was the auctioneer and said the sale was the pinnacle of his career so far.

“The excitement from the public for this work of art has been overwhelming and hugely heartening,” he said.

Also overwhelming and heartening for Christie’s is the buyer’s premium, which netted them more than $US50 million.

It was a heavy-hitting night at the auction of mostly post-war and contemporary art, with the 58 lots changing hands for more than $AU1 billion ($AU785,942,250 inc. buyer’s premium) in total, at an 84% clearance rate by lot.

Andy Warhol’s monumental 1986 work “Sixty Last Suppers” based on da Vinci’s work, sold for $US60,875,000, while two works by fellow American painter Cy Twombly added more than $US73 million to the kitty, with Untitled, 2005, selling for $US46,437,500 and Sunset (1957) selling for $US27,312,500.

Here’s “Salvator Mundi” and how the auction unfolded in New York last night:

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