Leonardo-inspired digital masterpiece goes up for auction

Dubbed the first crypto Leonardo, the non-fungible token 'Salvator Metaversi' features Jesus holding a fistful of cash

Author and art historian Ben Lewis has created a real non-fungible token (NFT) of Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi.

Dubbed the first crypto Leonardo, the digital artwork is a replica of Leonardo’s original, but instead of holding a glass orb, Jesus appears to be clutching a fistful of dollars.

Titled Salvator Metaversi, the crypto artwork serves to highlight the way that art dealers exploit the art world to make millions.

Minted on Friday the online NFT platform Opensea, bidding is open over the Easter weekend and will end on Tuesday.

Lewis is an expert on Leonardo's masterpiece having authored The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World's Most Expensive Painting in 2019.

In his first foray into the world of NFT, Lewis's work refers to the alternative digital reality of the metaverse – a world dominated by blockchain and cryptocurrency.

FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2017 file photo, an employee poses with Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" on display at Christie's auction rooms in London.  Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism announced Wednesday June 27, 2018,  that Leonardo da Vinci’s Renaissance oil painting of Christ 'Salvator Mundi' will be put on display at The Louvre Abu Dhabi from Sept. 18. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

The art historian is hopeful of making a fraction of what the original long-lost masterpiece did.

Sold at auction by Christie's New York in November 2017, the painting fetched a hefty $450 million.

Whatever Lewis makes, he'll share half of all profit with the Hendry family, the original owners of the Salvator Mundi masterpiece.

They sold the painting at auction in 2005 and, after all fees were deducted, received only $700 for the artwork, discloses Lewis's book.

What is an NFT?

A man looks at digital paintings by US artist Beeple at a crypto art exhibition entitled “Virtual Niche: Have You Ever Seen Memes in the Mirror?”, one of the world's first physical museum shows of blockchain art, ahead of its opening in Beijing on March 26, 2021. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION

An NFT is a new type of technology standing for non-fungible token. Essentially, it's ownership of something that's typically non-tangible such as a piece of digital art, an audio file or a video clip, for example.

The NFT is a one-of-a-kind piece of code that is stored on a shared public exchange. These unique files are not interchangeable, and allow verification of ownership. Buyers of NFTs get limited rights to display the digital artwork that they represent.

In recent months, there's been something of an NFT boom in the art world. In March, Christie's auctioned a digital piece by artist Beeple for $69m , and Elon Musk was recently offered $1.1m for a tweet containing a tech-driven song.

Lewis's masterpiece is not the only NFT artwork inspired by Salvator Mundi.

Salvator Mundi 2.0 depicts the original masterpiece with "new, higher fidelity image with AI improved facial features and stabilised symmetry based on a data set from the artist's original work". It is currently on sale on Opensea with a reserve price of $1,993.

Another Simpsons-style image of the famous masterpiece is also listed on the platform, this one with a reserve price of only $10.

Outside the world of art, NFTs have been making headlines in recent weeks in the world of fashion, with Gucci listing trainers for less than $10, and music, with Lindsay Lohan releasing a new NFT single called Lullaby.