Conflicting: Leonardo da Vinci painting shown with lost book attributed to him

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Bonhams holds auction of so-called ‘Holy Grail’ Leonardo painting, but says experts cannot confirm it is worth $450m

Britain’s auction house behind the sale of the disputed Leonardo da Vinci painting to an anonymous private buyer says it has cast doubt on the provenance of the work.

Bonhams said on Thursday it was “unable to confirm the authenticity of a 16th-century book that describes the apparent discovery of this painting”.

The auction house said it held the auction of the painting, the so-called “Holy Grail” of art, by Leonardo da Vinci’s studio for “a private investor and a few invited guests” on Tuesday.

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The so-called Salvator Mundi sells for about $450m (£379m) at auction – more than the previous record for a painting, the $179.4m paid in May for Willem de Kooning’s paintings Woman Interrupted and Interrupted.

Bonhams said in a statement there was a significant amount of doubt over its authenticity and the experts concluded “that further investigation may be required”.

The sale was approved by the British Prince of Wales, the head of the British monarchy’s private collections. The buyer was also secret.

The painting, which depicts Christ lifting up his robe and gazing at his disciples, sold anonymously for $15m in 1958, and again in 1997 for $100m – both with the blessing of the prince’s grandfather, Edward VIII.

The seller of Salvator Mundi, said Bonhams, “was an American private collector who commissioned it from a 16th-century Dutch artist known as a signet, who served in the same court as Caravaggio.”

The painting was authenticated by the Duke of Beaufort, another 17th-century courtier, according to Bonhams.

Leonardo’s work, including the so-called Holy Grail, is held in more than 50 museums and galleries in the US, Italy, England, France and Australia.

An exhibition at the Louvre in Paris, of a Leonardo painting not in public hands for hundreds of years, attracted nearly 2 million visitors.

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