The painting, which was once part of Charles I’s Royal collection and was sold for just £45 in the 1950s when it was mistaken for a copy, is the last remaining Leonardo in private hands.
It sold for a total amount, including fees paid by the winner to the auction house, of $450,312,500 million following 19 minutes of bidding at Christie’s in New York - despite lingering questions by some experts over its authenticity and condition.
Four telephone bidders and one in the auction room dueled for the masterpiece, which had a guaranteed pre-sale bid of at least $100 million.
The hammer eventually fell at $400 million, leading to applause and cheers by the stunned crowd. The victor - one of the phone bidders - was not immediately identified on Wednesday night.
The painting depicts Christ in a blue robe holding a crystal orb, which represents the Earth, and is one of fewer than 20 paintings by the grand master known still to exist.
Leonardo, who died in 1519, is thought to have painted Salvator Mundi sometime after 1500, during the same period that he produced the Mona Lisa, and it made its way into the Royal collection of Charles I in the early Seventeenth Century.
It then disappeared in 1763 until 1900, when it was acquired by Sir Charles Robinson, an art collector, for the Cook Collection, Doughty House, Richmond. At the time, the painting was thought to have been by Leonardo’s follower, Bernardino Luini and Christ’s face and hair had been painted over.