Painting sold for $450m: Epitomising inequality

BEAUTY, or at least your version of it, may be priceless but the New York sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, a long-lost painting of Jesus Christ commissioned by King Louis XII more than 500 years ago, for $450m suggests that even our highest ideals can be, and are being, commodified. In reality, it was ever thus.

That the painting, then unrecognised, was bought in America for $10,000 in 2005 introduces a layer of Robin Hood romanticism but the take-home impression must be that this process epitomises the excesses of an ever-more unequal world. That the auction-room sale sustained 20 minutes of multimillion-dollar bidding shows that there are those who must be described as being beyond mega rich. At one point, a telephone bidder pushed the price from $332m to $350m. The bidding then resumed: $353m, $355m. A jump to $370m. A jump to $400m. It is not necessary to be one of the billions of struggling people in the world to feel uneasy about this concentration of wealth — the same could be said about some

of the First World’s spectacularly expensive medical procedures focussed on a single patient. It is more than ironic too that the core message of the subject of the painting — Jesus Christ — challenged the mores that makes this kind of spectacular accumulation comfortable or even possible.

The Paradise Papers may have described the process, this auction pointed to the consequences.


Frits Potgieter is General Manager with Muckross Park Hotel and Spa.You've Been Served: Frits Potgieter, Muckross Park Hotel and Spa

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