Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World) is one of only a score of Leonardo's works still in existence and the only one held privately.
The previous holder of the record price for an Old Master painting was Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens, which sold for $76.7 million (£49.5 million) in 2002.
The iconic painting will live on infamy as the most expensive work of art sold at auction.
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.
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.
But Christie's was also slow to release an official condition report and its authenticity warranty on Leonardo runs out in five years, according to the small print in the back of its sale catalog.
Carl Court Getty Images
Christie's maintains that it was upfront about the much-restored, damaged condition of the oil-on-panel, which shows Christ as savior of the world, his right hand raised in blessing and his left holding a crystal orb.
The work was exhibited at The National Gallery in London in 2011, after years of research trying to document its authenticity after it was found, mistaken for a copy, in a United States auction in 2005.
According to Christie's, the painting once belonged to King Charles I of England in the mid-1600s. "The excitement from the public for this work of art has been overwhelming and hugely heartening".
Christie's senior specialist Alan Wintermute said witnessing the "masterpiece" appear at auction is "as close as I've come to an art world miracle".
Leonardo painted "Salvator Mundi" around the same time as the "Mona Lisa", and the two works of art "bear a patent compositional likeness", Gouzer said. "Long known to have existed, and long sought after, it seemed just a tantalizingly unobtainable dream until now", Wintermute said. It is also wonderful for an Old Master to be at the centre of such attention. "It has been more than a century since the last such painting turned up and this opportunity will not come again in our lifetime". After centuries of hiding, da Vinci's Christ as "Salvator Mundi " stirred unmatched sensation in the art world when it was unveiled on the walls of London's National Gallery in 2011.
"It's been called 'the male Mona Lisa, '" he said, "but it doesn't look like it at all".
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