The only Leonardo aa Vinci painting available to buy on the public market, which has been described as the “Holy Grail” for elite collectors, will go under the hammer with a starting price of $100m.
Da Vinci’s ethereal portrait of Jesus Christ – dubbed Salvator Mundi – will go on sale on Wednesday in auction house Christie’s in New York among a host of high-end art offerings.
It will be a top draw for aficionados among a plethora of post-war and contemporary art to be sold both there and in rival Sotheby’s this month, with sales expected to hit $1bn, experts estimated.
The work by the Italian Renaissance painter – translated as “Saviour of the World” – is believed to be among just 20 paintings by his hand that are said to exist.
Controversy has shrouded Salvator Mundi after Russian collector Dmitry Rybolovlev bought it for $127.5m four years ago – and is now suing a Swiss dealer after disagreements over the price.
But Francois de Poortere, head of the old master's department at Christie's, said interest should only be focused on the aesthetic qualities of this “extraordinary work of art”.
"For auction specialists, this is pretty much the Holy Grail," Loic Gouzer, co-chairman of Christie's Americas post-war and contemporary art department, added to French news agency AFP. "It doesn't really get better than that."
Art collectors will also be able to bid for other high-end paintings at the sale in Christie’s on Wednesday that come with starting price tags reserved only for wealthy collectors.
The offerings include the 1889 Laboureur dans un champ by Van Gogh, valued at $50m, and Contraste de formes, a 1913 Fernand Leger that comes with a starting price of $65m.
Works that will be sold in rival Sotheby’s on Thursday include Francis Bacon's Three Studies of George Dyer, valued at $35 to $45m, and a 1972 Andy Warhol Mao, at $30 to $40m.
But Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi has drawn the most interest among the art works for sale – both for its starting price of $100m and the controversy after a row involving its current owner.
Mr Rybolovlev, the boss of football club AS Monaco, is suing Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier after he bought it from him for $127.5m.
He acquired the painting in a purchase overall of 37 masterpieces for which he paid a total of $2.1bn.
Christie's has only identified the current seller of Da Vinci's Salvator Mundi - which dates to the 1500s - as a European art collector.