A Leonardo da Vinci painting believed lost or destroyed has been authenticated, rocking the art history world (and all Leonardo fans worldwide).

Titled Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World), this panel painting was publicly displayed for the first time in the exhibition, Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at the 2012 exhibition at the  National Gallery in London. Between to have been painted between the late 1490s to early 1500s, the Salvator Mundi is believed to be worth $200 million – although its owners emphasize it is not for sale.

Art historians have known about the existence of Salvator Mundi from two preparatory drawings by Leonardo, numerous copies made by students, and a 1650 etching by the Bohemian etcher, Wenceslaus Hollar; its location, however, has been uncertain until recently.

Salvator Mundi appears in 1649 in the royal art collection of Charles I and was sold by the royals in 1763, at which point it disappeared until 1900.  Sir Frederick Cook then purchased this Leonardo painting; his heirs sold Salvator Mundi for a mere 45 pounds sterling because it was damaged and its authorship forgotten.  In 2005 the Leonardo painting was brought to a New York art historian, Robert Simon, and exhaustive authentication began.

Key factors in authenticating this as one of the remaining Leonardo da Vinci paintings were:

  • the resemblance to Leonardo’s preparatory sketches and Hollar’s etching;
  • the stylistic similarities with other Leonardo paintings;
  • the stellar quality; and
  • existence of pentimenti.

This brings to fifteen the number of fully authenticated Leonardo da Vinci paintings (the last attribution occurred in 1909 with the Benois Madonna now at the Hermitage Museum).

UPDATE: Salvator Mundi sold in November, 2017, for more than $450 million, setting a new record for any painting ever sold at auction.