On Wednesday evening, an anonymous collector dialed in to a spacious room inside Rockefeller Center in New York City and instructed the person on the other end of the line to spend nearly half a billion dollars for a 25.8-inch by 17.9-inch oil painting of Jesus Christ.
Why? Because that piece of artwork, called “Salvator Mundi,” is credited to Leonardo da Vinci. It was discovered in 2005 and underwent heavy restoration, according to the New York Times. The auction, held by Christie’s, shattered records, more than doubling the amount spent on the most expensive piece of art ever sold.
This, despite the fact that the provenance of the painting is disputed, many experts believing one of da Vinci’s students completed the painting rather than the master himself.
From the Times:
“But many art experts argue that Christie’s used marketing window dressing to mask the baggage that comes with the Leonardo, from its compromised condition to its complicated buying history and said that the auction house put the artwork in a contemporary sale to circumvent the scrutiny of old masters experts, many of whom have questioned the painting’s authenticity and condition.”
The painting’s disputed past didn’t dampen the frenzied bidding for the piece. That, according to the Times, is in large part due to Christie’s breathless marketing campaign. The auction house hosted public viewings of the painting for more than 27,000 people in cities around the world before the sale.
They also created a strange, four-minute video, showing emotional people looking up at something (presumably the painting) in front of a dark background, set to dramatic classical music. It closes with the text “The Last da Vinci” appearing on screen.
For more on the sale and the painting’s disputed past, you can read the Times’ report, here.