Leonardo artwork 'Salvator Mundi' sells for record fee of £341 million

A painting of Christ by Leonardo da Vinci has smashed the world record for an artwork sold at auction or privately.

Salvator Mundi, Italian for Savior of the World, fetched $450 million (£341m) when it went under the hammer at Christie's auction house in New York on Wednesday.

Fewer than 20 paintings by the Renaissance master are known to exist, and Salvator Mundi is the sole Leonardo in private hands. The auction house did not identify the buyer.

The previous highest price for a work of art at auction was $179.4m (£136m), for Pablo Picasso's painting Women of Algiers (Version O) in May 2015, also at Christie's in New York.

The highest known sale price for any artwork had been $300m (£227m), for Willem de Kooning's painting Interchange, sold privately in September 2015 by the David Geffen Foundation to hedge fund manager Kenneth C Griffin.

The opening bid was $100m (£75m). After 10 minutes, the bid was $300m. It concluded after 19 minutes with the world record fee.

The 26-inch-tall painting dates from around 1500 and shows Christ dressed in Renaissance-style robes, his right hand raised in blessing as his left hand holds a crystal sphere.

The work was once owned by King Charles I of England, but it disappeared from view until 1900, when it was acquired by a British collector, incorrectly attributed at the time to one of Leonardo’s disciple, rather than to the master himself.

The painting was sold again in 1958 and again in 2005, when it was bought by a consortium of art dealers who paid less than $10,000 (£7,600) for the badly damaged and partly painted-over piece.

The dealers restored the painting and documented its authenticity as a work by Leonardo. It was then sold to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev in 2013 for $127.5m (£96,800) in a private sale that became the subject of a continuing lawsuit.

Christie's said most scholars agree the work is authentic, though critics have argued to restoration makes the authorship difficult to attest.