"'Salvator Mundi" was painted in the same time frame as the "Mona Lisa, ' and they bear a patent compositional likeness", said Loic Gouzer, the chairman of Christie's postwar and contemporary art department in New York City.
The highest price paid for a work of art at auction had been $179.4 million (152 million euros), for Picasso's "Women of Algiers (Version O)" in May 2015, also at Christie's in NY. It is the 12th painting to break the $100 million mark at auction, and a new high for any old master at auction, surpassing Rubens's "Massacre of the Innocents", which sold for $76.7 million in 2002 (or more than $105 million, adjusted for inflation). Although some are skeptical, including NY magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, the portrait is generally acknowledged to be one of fewer than 20 paintings by the master's own hand, and the only one not in a museum.
Christie's maintains that it was upfront about the much-restored, damaged condition of the oil-on-panel, which shows Christ as savior of the world, his right hand raised in blessing and his left holding a crystal orb.
A backer of the "Salvator Mundi" auction had guaranteed a bid of at least $100 million.
A staff member poses with a painting by Leonardo da Vinci entitled "Salvator Mundi" in London on October 24, 2017, before it is auctioned in NY.
Christie's says it belonged to Charles I, after possibly being made for the French royal family and taken to England by Queen Henrietta Maria when she married the English monarch in 1625. At that time it was attributed to a Leonardo disciple, rather than to the master himself.
"The composition doesn't come from Leonardo", said Jacques Franck, a Paris-based art historian and Leonardo specialist.
The auction house has also played down the painting's volatile history.
Christie's said most scholars agree the painting is by Leonardo, though some critics have questioned the attribution and some say the extensive restoration muddies the work's authorship.
Visitors wait outside Christie's to view Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi", Nov. 14, 2017, in NY. "The opportunity to bring this masterpiece to the market is an honor that comes around once in a lifetime".
"It's been called 'the male Mona Lisa, '" he said, "but it doesn't look like it at all". "Long known to have existed, and long sought after, it seemed just a tantalizingly unobtainable dream until now", Wintermute said.
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But National's foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee said it was "surprising she's chose to go so hard on the Australians". Australia has consistently rejected the offer, saying it represents a "back door" to Australia, something it will not abide.