At an auction this past week, one of te priciest pieces of art ever was sold- a once-lost portait of Christ by Leonardo da Vinco. The $450M price tag was roughly three times the anticipated price and is the most that was ever paid for the painting. It was purchased by an anonymous collector who will now be the owner of just one of 20 know paintings by da Vinci. The is speculation that one of the bidders is Liu Yiqian, a Chinese billionaire and co-founder of the Long Museum in Shanghai.
Leonardo da Vinci's work is particularly expensive because of the painstaking layering technique which he used during the 1500s and as a result it took several years to complete these paintings. Head of the Old Masters department at Christie's auction in New York called it the "holy grail of Old Master paintings" and even dubbed it the "male Mona Lisa". Previously, the highest price paid for art at an auction was $179.4 million which was for Pablo Picasso's "Women of Algiers". Da Vinci's portrait is particularly unique because it is different from his usual work which often features subjects positioned in three-quarter view. This particular painting is 26 inches tall and depicts Christ in Renaissance-style attire with the right hand raised in invocation and the left holding a crystal orb.
As a result of this auction, the authenticity of the portrait has come back into question and according to Stephen Campbell, an art history professor at Johns Hopkins University, "there is very little Leonardo visible in the painting that was seen yesterday." He estimates that only about 20% of the painting's surface was original work done by da Vinci himself. The rest was reconstructed by conservators, including Dianne Dwyer Modestini. There is even speculation that the 20% is not da Vinci's work but that of his assistant who was trained to mimic his style because most of his post-1500 paintings are in fact hybrids. There are in fact other historians who are suspicious of the painting's authenticity.
This is in part due to the fact that the painting has a very long history. In 1506, the painting was commissioned by Louis XII of France and da Vinci finished it 7 years later. After years, it ended up in the possession of Charles I of England and then was passed onto Charles II and it remained in London for 400. Eventually, it ended up in the collection of Sir Francis Cook. It was thought that in 2004, Robert Simon Fine Art in New York acquired the painting at a clearance sale for $10,000 and in 2013, it was purchased by Paris-based dealer, Yves Bouvier for $77 million. During this last auction, the painting had a guaranteed bid of at least $100 million and it hit $300 million almost halfway through the bidding. Many critics believe that the painting's authorship has been muddied because of its extensive restoration; however, many people were amazed to have had the opportunity to see the painting before it was sold off. In the end, Campbell concluded that the doubt of authorship does not matter because for practical purposes, the attribution of the artwork was confirmed by the sale itself.