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.

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