How did a $59 Da Vinci fetch half-a-billion dollars?

Ross Greenwood speaks to Ronan Sulich, from Christie’s Australia, about how Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi”, shattered the record  for any work of art sold at auction.

Introduction: How did a $59 Dar Vinci fetch half a billion dollars?

Ross Greenwood: Well, the subject of people doing a bit tough. I want to go to a totally different subject now because this might just blow your mind. By the way, when you start hearing this, you might just have trouble picking it up. It’s an auction but what they are actually paying and what they’re bidding for is completely out of this world.

Auctioneer: We move to the Leonardo da Vinci, the Salvator Mundi, the masterpiece by Leonardo of Christ the Saviour. For those of you following online, you might not have heard it, the bid was 350 was called on the telephone. At 350 million for Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi.

Male Speaker: 400.

Auctioneer: 400 million.


Thank you all for your bidding here and on the telephone to my left and of course, here and Francois. Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi, selling here at Christie’s, $400 million is the bid and the piece is sold.


Ross Greenwood: Can you believe that? 400 million. This is at Christie’s in New York. Dating back to 1500, the rare painting, Salvator Mundi, is one of fewer than 20 authenticated works by Leonardo da Vinci in existence. Can you imagine how much that would go up now and in the future? Let’s now go to Christie’s Australia’s Regional Representative, Ronan Sulich who’s on the line. Many thanks for your time, Ronan. This is astonishing, isn’t it?

Interview with: Ronan Sulich, Christie’s Australia

Ronan Sulich: It’s auction history, Ross. Yes, definitely.

Ross Greenwood: In regards to — I mean, it would only be a rare number of people in the world who could afford to pay $450 million US for a piece of artwork. I mean, that is the whole point about this. As a result, the people in those rooms bidding that sort of money, as I say, it’s a rare, fun atmosphere.

Ronan Sulich:  It’s very, very unusual. It’s very much typical of the market at the moment. We’ve got what we call a masterpiece market. If you can find something that is as unique and special as the Leonardo or anything of that calibre, the sky is the limit really for what someone’s prepared to pay for it. There are people out there who really want to be seen to own that trophy piece.

Ross Greenwood: The things is that the previous owner Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian businessman, he bought this particular painting for $127 million in 2013. At that time, it was said to be massive but to see it rise so quickly in a space of five years, that’s the other side of this that seems to me to be almost eye-watering.

Ronan Sulich:  Eye-watering, I suppose, but it’s also, he bought it privately. We have — Christie’s had done the most remarkable marketing campaign, really pulled all the bells and whistles, toured it around the world. Not that any of the people who saw it on tour would have bought it but the whole hype has been quite remarkable and that certainly helped to place it in the firmament of the ultimate artwork.

Ross Greenwood: I love this. The piece of art is — well, in the old fashion speeches, barely two feet tall. It’s 26 inches tall, it’s 18 inches wide, commissioned by Louis XII of France and then, ultimately, owned by or at one stage owned by Charles I of England. I mean, as much of the value of this; yes, it is Leonardo da Vinci, yes, it is a rare painting, but it’s also the history of it, who’s owned it in the past, that makes it unique.

Ronan Sulich:  The history is pretty spectacular, not that it did much good for Charles I, who ended having his head cut off. It is also though, apart from that, a really spectacularly beautiful painting. They’ve been calling it the male equivalent of the Mona Lisa.

Ross Greenwood: Wow, just amazing. In regards to the art world here in Australia right now, I mean, we talked about some families doing a bit tough but we do know there’s enough people relatively wealthy in this country, what would you describe the art market like in Australia right now?

Ronan Sulich:  Well, it similar in the trophy pieces, there will be people who will pay the premium price. There’s no doubt about that. Property, we’ve seen it and for art as well. There are people out there who — you have to find the right piece but there’s definitely buyers, the hunger for that trophy piece.

Ross Greenwood: Tell you what, it’s good. The other thing also, Ronan, can you explain is there much interest, particularly, we’ve seen a lot of Chinese buyers in property here, is it much Chinese interest in Australia not here?

Ronan Sulich:  That’s not an area that’s really taken off yet with the buyers. No, they’re still very much engaged in the international out-market. The reason we’ve had a weaker sales across the board in New York this week and the participation from Asia has been tremendous in all the auction houses. Almost half of the top lots have gone to Asian buyers.

Ross Greenwood: The greatest part about the story about the Salvator Mundi, is it true that in 1958, it’s sold — because it was dismissed as a copy and it sold for £45?

Ronan Sulich:  Unfortunately, yes. I hope those people aren’t too upset about it.

Ross Greenwood: It sold in 1958 for £45 because it was considered a fake and a copy. It’s now been authenticated as the real deal and it just sold for $450 million US. Ronan Sulich is Christie’s Australia’s regional representative and Ronan, many thanks for your time in the program.


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