By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — While the gasps and applause have faded on the record price paid at auction for a piece of art this past week, with the Leonardo da Vinci painting fetching $450-million, art critics and appraisers are still talking about it.

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Many experts in the art world agree that the controversial painting is by the Renaissance master, but not all accept the attribution of the work to Leonardo. David Weiss, who heads the European and Old Masters Department at Freeman’s Auction at 18th and Chestnut Streets, believes it was the genuine article.

“There was enough of a consensus, as I understand it, that there was just no question that it was right,” Weiss said.

The same painting sold in 1958 for $60. Back then, skeptics dismissed it as a copy of the Old Master’s work. But Weiss says the subsequent back story was compelling, and Christie’s marketing and salesmanship were superb.

“That price was not necessarily unexpected, or unreasonable,” he said.

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Historians believe it’s contemporary to either the Last Supper or the Mona Lisa from around 1500. It’s rarity alone – his last known work – was a selling point, according to Weiss.

“There is an ever dwindling pool, although they’re out there, of great quality works of that genre,” he said.

Christie’s decided to show the piece during its Contemporary, rather than Old Masters art sale, figuring that’s where the big spenders were.

“You’re making it relevant to today’s buyer, today’s market,” Weiss said. “I think it was a wonderful marketing decision on their part.”

For its part, Freeman’s is holding its own as an auction house.

“We’ve broken the $1-million barrier on more than just several occasions,” Weiss said.

 

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