On November 15th, auction house Christie's will be offering a "special lot" in its Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale: A painting of Jesus Christ, painted around 1500, by Leonardo da Vinci called. The piece is called Salvator Mundi, and was believed lost until being "rediscovered" in 2005.
In 2011, its authenticity as a work by the Renaissance master was confirmed after it was shown to numerous scholars at museums around the world. Christie's says, "Individual opinions vary slightly in the matter of dating — most of the consulting experts place the painting at the end of Leonardo’s Milanese period in the later 1490s, contemporary with The Last Supper, while others believe it to be slightly later, painted in Florence (where the artist moved in 1500), contemporary with the Mona Lisa."
Christie’s Alex Rotter, a co-chairman of Postwar and Contemporary Art, told the NY Times, "There are only about 15 Leonardo da Vincis in existence... [it's] the Holy Grail of art rediscoveries.'"
The painting has also been embroiled in legal battles; from Art News:
In the early 2000s, the work was owned by a consortium of dealers including Warren Adelson, president of Adelson Galleries, and dealers Alexander Parish and Robert Simon, after Parish picked up a canvas at an estate sale that he believed to be a Leonardo copy. He paid just $10,000 for the work. After the work was restored, it was authenticated as a work by the man himself—a miraculous find—and it received its formal coronation when it was unveiled to the public at the National Gallery in London in 2011. Two years later, it was sold to dealer Yves Bouvier in a private sale brokered by Sotheby’s for between $75 million and $80 million.
Bouvier then sold it to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev for $127.5 million, netting the dealer a margin of almost $50 million. Upon learning of the mark-up in the sale and others, Rybolovlev became suspicious of his art broker’s pricing decisions, and eventually filed a criminal complaint in Monégasque court alleging a scheme that overcharged him a total of $1 billion over 40 sales.
In addition, the consortium that originally sold the work threatened to sue Sotheby’s for its involvement in the sale, alleging that they got shortchanged. Sotheby’s filed its own complaint in federal court in Manhattan last November, asking a judge to rule that it was not liable for any potential misdeeds in the private deal between Bouvier and Rybolovlev.
ArtNews also reports the painting could sell for $100 million.
The orb in the painting is believed to be made of rock crystal, which Christie's notes is "the purest form of quartz, and widely believed in the Renaissance to possess formidable magical powers. Rock crystals cut in Antiquity had been set into reliquaries since the Middle Ages, giving the stone sacred associations. Therefore, the very substance of the globe, as well as the perfection of its regular and continuous spherical form, endows it with a nearly miraculous essence."
The piece will be exhibited in New York between October 28th and November 4th, before the November 15th sale, which will also feature Andy Warhol's final silk screen painting, The Last Supper.