A painting by the renowned Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi is the most expensive painting in the world as of 2020. An oil painting made on a walnut panel; the dimensions of the painting are 45.4cm x 65.6cm (25.8 in x 19.2 in). In Latin, Salvator Mundi literally means “Saviour of the World” – dated back to c. 1500, it is a painting of Christ wherein He is blessing with His right hand and holds an orb with the left. The painting made auction history when its original estimated price of $100 million, came up to an astounding price of $450.3 million at an auction at Christie’s in New York in November 2017.
Christie’s, founded in 1766 by James Christie, is the most coveted auction house with ten salerooms across forty-six countries in the world. Even after witnessing many famous auctions in its 254 years history including the most expensive paintings of the world, Christie’s still had never seen a painting being sold in-house at such an astronomical figure. The most expensive paintings of the world have had won over the historical timeframe and many neo modern paintings have been sold at much higher prices than the works of the artists who have gifted the world with some of the best paintings during the renaissance period. Art lovers today have not only confined themselves to collecting the works of great-master artists like Tintoretto, Botticelli, Raphael and Rembrandt but have expanded their collections by acquiring the paintings of “newer artists” such as Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollock which were created during the late nineteenth to twentieth-century – what became as modernism to modern art. Yet, Leonardo da Vinci, the pioneer of renaissance stands tall with Salvator Mundi being the most expensive painting in the world.
5 of the 15 most expensive paintings of the world prices are lesser than the difference between the price of most expensive painting and the 2nd most expensive painting.
Is the Salvator Mundi really the most expensive painting in the world? Yes, it is, but among the ones which have been put on auction or on sale. Another creation of Leonardo da Vinci, “Mona Lisa (1503)” featuring on the wall of Louvre Museum at Paris since 1797 and is one of the most talked about (famous) paintings of the world. The painting was insured on December 14, 1962 at a staggering $100 million - equivalent to $850 million (approx.) in 2020. It is the highest known insurance valuation in history. Hence, in either ways, on sale or in museum the works of Leonardo da Vinci remain the most expensive of all paintings in the world.
Lost and Found – The Story of Salvator Mundi -
Salvator Mundi was up for sale in an auction at New Orleans Auction Gallery at the bank of Mississippi river in 2005 when it was bought by one Alexander Parish, an art dealer, a Rockland County art speculator for a mere sum of $1000. Parish had consulted his friend Robert Simon, a doctorate in art history from Columbia University with speciality in Art during the Renaissance and they decided to bid up to $10,000, Parish mentioned in an interview later. In another interview, Simon mentioned the painting “appeared to be a damaged, but worthy Renaissance-era work.” No one pitched for the painting at all and the winning bid came in at $1000 only! Parish was happy with the buy because like other paintings he bought of Leonardo da Vinci, Salvatore Mundi was also a replica as the originals were lost; only this time, in his mind, this replica was better than most of what he owned. However, what he was not sure of was whether this was a replica of a Vinci painting or it was a creation of Bernardino Luini, a Milanese disciple of Vinci. During the 12 years’ time of Parish’s ownership, the painting transpired to be the world’s most expensive painting. When Salvator Mundi reached New York with Parish, it was but only a painting with unknown origin and in questionable condition. Parish was quite disheartened to notice that the previous restorer had applied a thick layer of paint on the face of Christ - something which he did not have a chance to notice in the auction. On 5th April of 2005, Simon took the painting wrapped in a trash bag to the residence of Dianne Dwyer Modestini, a lauded art restorer and Research Professor of the Institute of New York University and it was she who discovered that in contrast to all the other replicas of Salvator Mundi, the thumb of the blessing hand of Christ was upright in this painting. She also realized that there was a visible trace of the painting beneath the layers of paint on the canvas - which is always a clear indication that this painting is an original and not a copy, as a “copier only observes the surface of a picture, not the skeleton underneath”, as she said.
The Life of Leonardo da Vinci -
Born in 1453 in the hill town of Vinci in the Republic of Florence in Italy, Leonardo da Vinci is considered as one of the most multifaceted genius of all times. A Renaissance polymath, his interest ranged from botany to anatomy, from history and origin of earth to the geographical maps and he had been a trend setter in all the areas he would step in. He was best known as a painter where his mastery can be compared to none less than Michelangelo. Because of the continuous experimentation of Leonardo da Vinci on painting and for the multifarious activities and interests that he had on different subjects, many of his paintings remained incomplete. Most of his creations were made in a span of 20 years only, i.e., between 1490 to 1510, of which today, only 23 of his paintings still remain. This includes paintings which he has done jointly or had painted only a portion of.
Of the 20 remaining masterpieces that have been classified as Leonardo da Vinci paintings inclusive of all his controversial artworks, these paintings are the few of the most expensive pieces of artwork of the world today.
Mystery and Vinci -
Leonardo da Vinci and his creations have been at the helm of attention even after five hundred years of his demise, with discussions and researches of his paintings still happening. Some of the mysteries prevalent in his paintings remain unsolved even after extensive researches over centuries that have further consolidated the aura of these paintings and positioned them amongst the most expensive paintings of the world. Tintoretto, another legendary painter of the Renaissance period also has a famous painting in the name “The Last Supper” but what have made the “The Last Supper” of Vinci different from that of Tintoretto are the mysteries in Vinci’s painting. Vinci had taken quite a few years in completing this painting.
One of the mysteries on Vinci’s painting is the striking similarity between Jesus and Judas – the painter was oblivious that the person who modelled for Jesus, was in fact re-modelling for Judas (three years later,) resulting in a similar-looking portraiture. It was only later that the model reminded Vinci of the fact but alas – by now the painting was created and so was a ‘mystery’ that would be one of the reasons for such elaborate following up in the centuries to come.
It was perceived that his painting – Salvator Mundi had a mistake which Da Vinci apparently had overlooked. A close look at the painting shows that the orb (or sphere) in the left hand of Jesus is transparent, oddly defying the laws of physics and gravity. This was not expected from a scientist of the calibre of Leonardo Da Vinci who had studied the laws of optics and was aware that the background should be enlarged and should appear out of focus and cannot appear the way it has appeared in the painting. However, an in-depth research was done from University of California with the help of computer models and it revealed that Jesus is in fact holding a hollow, not a solid orb and because of that, the painting looks the way it is. This meant Vinci depicted it to be a hollow and not a solid orb. The idea of the hollow orb was put forward at an earlier phase too but the art historians refrained from accepting this; but now with an advanced 3D rendition, this has been accepted as Vinci’s magic trick and has increased the respect for Leonardo Da Vinci as a visionary manifold. Salvator Mundi by all its merit has become the most expensive painting of the world - a painting where science and art has amalgamated – a creation of masterpiece more than five hundred years back!
The Journey –
Salvatore Mundi, the world’s most expensive painting has quite an interesting past. This painting was first recorded in the art collection of Charles I of England in 1649. After his death, it was sold out for a short while but came back again to England in 1660 after Charles II became the king of England. It later passed to Duke of Buckingham and the painting was put in an auction of 1763 when the Buckingham Palace was sold to the King of England. The painting was lost from history thereafter till 1900 when the painting was acquired by Sir Fredrick Cook. The painting with considerable amount of damage and over-painting during this missing period had the name of the painter forgotten - as none of Vinci paintings carried the signature of the artist. Cook’s descendants sold the world’s most expensive painting of today in 1958 in an auction for 45 pounds only! Finally, decades later it reached the hands of Robert Simon and Alexander Parish, later restored by Modestini - the