Morgan Meis in The Easel:
In 1500, Leonardo was an artist working for hire. One of his clients was Louis XII of France. The painting he had just completed was a portrait of Jesus Christ, quite possibly a commission from the French monarch. History does not record whether the completed work met with approval but, once painted, Salvator Mundi began a rather improbable journey in and out of oblivion. A couple of decades after it was completed (and by way of royal marriages) Salvator Mundi ended up on the British Isles. For the next hundred and fifty years, the painting was in the possession of various English courts and palaces. Then, in the late 18th century, the painting disappeared from the historical record. That’s the oblivion part of the story.
During the oblivion years, Leonardo’s painting fell on hard times. It was damaged and – in an attempt at restoration – painted over in such a way as to make Christ look like one of the dopier members of the Manson Family. The painting, no longer recognizable as a Leonardo, was sold at auction in 1904 – mentioned in a long CNN video on the piece that is here. It appeared at auction again in 1958, selling for the modest sum of forty-five British pounds.
It was sold again in the US in 2005 to a consortium of dealers led by Robert Simon. They got it for around $10,000. Simon, a New York fine art dealer specializing in Renaissance works, suspected it was worth much more than that, though he dared not yet dream it might be the lost Leonardo. Years of restoration work brought out the Leonardo concealed beneath the third-rate overpainting. It then sold for $75 million in 2013 and right away again for $127.5 million. Finally, just last October, Salvator Mundiwas purchased by a Saudi prince (on behalf of the Louvre Abu Dhabi) for $450.3 million dollars, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold.