Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci sells at USD450m - how and why did this fantastic story happen.

In light of last night’s historic sale at Christie's, where Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi became the most expensive work of art ever sold, Ambassade d’Art takes this opportunity to comment on the timeline of the painting’s history in order to illustrate the process and the expertise required for an artwork to go from mere 45 pounds in 1958 to 80 million US dollars in 2013, and again to 450.3 million USD on the evening of 15 November 2017.

Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi has been the property of three royal families, has gone missing, been found, authenticated, resold and brought into the limelight more than 500 years later. Much of this excitement, enormous financial loss, and gain, could have been avoided with proper inventory management, which we offer today. One can only imagine the financial benefit of the descendants of its original owners had there been a proper inventory system, conservation, and surveillance in place. Here is a timeline beginning with the most recent and commentary:

• 2017 – Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev places Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi up for sale at Christie’s and there is hardly an educated person around the world who has not heard of the spectacular sale to come. On the evening of 15 November 2017 in New York, the painting is sold for 400 million USD plus 50.3 million USD in auction fees (total of 450.3 million USD, amounting to earnings for Rybolovlev of above 300 million USD).

• 2013 – Geneva-based, art transporter and free-port art storage company owner Yves Bouvier – having used his inside knowledge of collections and having expanded his activity into art dealing some years before, which later shook the art world with its loudest scandals on issues of ethics and conflict of interest – immediately after acquiring the masterpiece, sold Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi to the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for 127.5 million USD dollars, making a 47.5 million USD profit in the process.

For a collector, it is important to know that an unwritten rule for private dealers is to work on an average of a 10% markup, which is shared by everyone if more than one dealer is involved. (Introducers, who are not professional dealers, are remunerated by dealers from their profit.) Depending on how expensive is the piece this range is sometimes negotiated at 7% for artworks valued at several tens of millions of dollars to up to 20% for artwork under 1 million.

However, this unwritten rule does not apply, if the dealer puts up his/her own finances to acquire the painting him/herself and then sells it several years later.

• 2013 – Having authenticated the work as a bona fide Leonardo da Vinci, the art dealer Alexander Parish and a consortium of fellow dealers sell it to Yves Bouvier in a private Sotheby’s sale for around 80 USD million.

Authentication is a very expensive process, but if done with determination, precision, expertise, and diligence, the value of the painting can change from10 thousand USD to 80 million, as in the case of this canvas.

If you are a collector looking for pieces, you may prefer private dealers and professionals, who are liable in face of law to perform due diligence and to prepare proper documentation, research and to check sources, and who have access to reliable information and reputable art experts.

A public sale, however, such the 15 November 2017, brings the artwork into the public eye, which is something that must be considered and understood.

• 2005 – The canvas surfaces at an American estate sale, where a New York art dealer Alexander Parish purchases it for 10 thousand USD.

• 1958 – Salvator Mundi was sold at Sotheby’s London auction on 25 June 1958, but not as a work by Leonardo Da Vinci, but attributed to Boltraffio, who worked in da Vinci’s studio. The work is sold for 45 British pounds to a person named Kuntz.

• Late 19th century –
The painting enters the collection of Sir Frederick Cook in Virginia.

• 1763 – After remaining in the Royal family’s collection for years, the painting goes missing—and doesn’t surface again for 150 years.

Here we have an interesting issue to consider – how can a painting go missing? Was there lack of inventory, or was it theft? If you collect, do you know what is in your collection and is there somebody responsible to keep track of your acquisitions? If an artwork goes missing from your collection, would you be able to track it? If the value rises, who researches it to keep it up to date? Do you change the insurance policy accordingly and monitor the artwork’s condition? We make this point to highlight the importance of inventory management, which is a service offered by Ambassade d’Art, and which once in place, is very easy to access and manage. As we can see from the history of da Vinci’s work, such a precaution can be of great benefit to yourself and your family later.

• 1651 – King Charles I died in 1649, and shortly thereafter the canvas was sold for 30 British pounds to settle part of his massive debt.

• 1625 –It is believed that the French Royal Family commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint Salvator Mundi, which later accompanies Queen Henrietta to England when she marries King Charles I.

• 1500 – It is believed that the French Royal Family commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint Salvator Mundi around this time for King Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany, shortly after the conquests of Milan and Genoa.

This article was written by Zané Grants at Ambassade d’Art, based on information largely taken and reshuffled from Artnet News, as well as other sources.

Images: Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi exhibited at Christie's in November 2017, and photographed by B. Davis, which appears here in a largely cropped format.