Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art Business

First Advisor

Ann-Marie Richard

Second Advisor

Eric Wolf


On 3 November 2017, within the Post-War & Contemporary Evening Sale at Christie's auction in New York, nestled between a Vija Celmins and Jean-Michel Basquiat, was a painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, the Salvator Mundi (1490-1500.) The work quadrupled the estimated sale price of 100 million USD, hammering at 400 million (for a total of 450.3 million with buyer’s premium.) This work, setting the record for the most expensive work of art ever sold, at auction or private, creates a curious case for the Old Masters category. What appears to be a shrinking, potentially dwindling category of art, now sits at the top of every art sale record - the most expensive work of art is an old master. Why, then, does the category so underperform when compared to the Contemporary, Post-War, Modern, Post-Impressionist, and Impressionist works at auction? This thesis will attempt to analyze how the art market has formed, and what exactly dictates the market today. The supply of Old Masters is limited, and the “Greats” of the Old Masters, such as Titian, Botticelli, and Leonardo - who do continue to smash sale records - is even more scarce. Why does it seem that only certain Old Master works (for the sake of this study, the Italian Renaissance works) stand a chance at competing with the prices set by the other aforementioned categories of art? What do these Italian old masters have that other old masters lack? In addition, this study will examine whether this is the norm for the old masters, or if there is anything that can be done (or has been done) to stay relevant in today’s world. As for the Salvator Mundi, this study concludes that it was an over-performing anomaly, the price more determined by the theatrics around it, though it does serve as a metaphoric example of what the Old Masters market should be following.