To the 27,000 people who lined up at pre-auction viewings in Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and NY to glimpse the painting of Christ as "Savior of the World", this was merely the chance to lay their eyes on what Christie's billed as "the Last da Vinci", the only known painting by the Renaissance master still in a private collection (some 15 others are in museums).
The artwork has been the subject of legal disputes and amassed a price history that ranges from less than $10,000 in 2005, when it was spotted at an estate auction, to $200 million when it was first offered for sale by a consortium of three dealers in 2012. It is the 12th painting to break the $100 million mark at auction, and a new high for any old master at auction, surpassing Rubens's "Massacre of the Innocents", which sold for $76.7 million in 2002 (or more than $105 million, adjusted for inflation).
These records were obliterated when Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie's Global President, brought the hammer down on Lot 9 after an extraordinary bidding battle that lasted just short of 20 minutes.
Whoops and applause rippled through the packed room as bids quickly escalated into unchartered territory, coming down to two head-to-head rivals on the telephone.
But it was an anonymous bidder who called in to secure the haunting painting depicting Christ, believed to be the work of Leonardo da Vinci, for a cool $450.3 million. Latin for "Savior of the World" - was purchased for $450.3 million by an undisclosed buyer.
The painting has been at the center of a lawsuit by Rybolovlev, who has accused Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier of overcharging him on a string of art deals.
At the moment Pylkkanen stated $400 million was up (plus fees) the room held their breaths as agents whispered into their phones with buyers. He resold it within days to the Russian tycoon, for $127.5 million, netting a $47.5 million profit.
He has denied any wrongdoing.
The 26-inch-tall painting has an intriguing history. When it re-emerged in 2005, this exquisite work, depicting Jesus Christ as the savior of the world, became the first discovery of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci since 1909. The previous auction record for Leonardo da Vinci was set at Christie's in 2001 when Horse and Rider, a work on paper, sold for $11,481,865.
The painting was said to be the last Leonardo in private hands and "the greatest artistic rediscovery of the 21st century".
"He was a genius of his time and people still see him as that".
Salvator Mundi is a depiction of Christ, with a raised right hand and a glass sphere in his left.
It was recorded in the collection of King Charles I of England in 1649 but was auctioned to the Duke of Buckingham in 1763.