First recorded in the private collection of King Charles I, the work was auctioned in 1763 before vanishing until 1900, by which time Christ's face and hair had been painted over - once a "quite common" practice, according to Mr Alan Wintermute, Christie's senior specialist for Old Master paintings. It was sold by Christie's auction house, which didn't immediately identify the buyer.
Dated to around 1500, the work sold after 19 minutes of frenzied bidding - an incongruous Old Master in Christie's evening postwar and contemporary sale, which attracts the biggest spenders in the high-octane world of worldwide billionaire art collectors.
It was purchased at an estate auction in 2005 for $10,000 and then sold privately in 2013 for $80 million.
The painting, known as "Salvator Mundi", meaning "savior of the world" in Latin, is now the most expensive painting ever sold.
The auction house, which also helped sell Picasso's painting "Women of Algiers", reports that around 30,000 people attended Christie's showing of the painting in Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and NY.
The 500-year-old oil painting depicting Christ holding a crystal orb is called "Salvator Mundi" or "Savior of the World". It's said to be one of just several paintings from Leonardo's own hand that still exist. Members of the public cared little if at all whether the painting might have been executed in part by studio assistants; whether Leonardo had actually made the work himself; or how much of the canvas had been repainted and restored.
In New York, where no museum owns a Leonardo, art lovers lined up outside Christie's Rockefeller Center headquarters on Tuesday to view "Salvator Mundi".
Almost 30,000 people came to see the work when Christie's displayed it in Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and NY. Svetla Nikolova, who is from Bulgaria but lives in NY, called the painting "spectacular". The previous record for an Old Master painting was $US76.7 million for Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens in 2002.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience", she said. The price tag of the classic piece of artwork makes it the highest valued painting in history.
Visitors wait outside Christie's to view Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi", Nov. 14, 2017, in NY.
Christie's declined to comment on the controversy and had valued the painting pre-sale at $100 million.
Luke Syson, curator of the 2011 National Gallery exhibition in London that featured the painting, said in his catalog essay that "the picture has suffered".
Scholars had long believed "Salvator Mundi" was destroyed, until it re-emerged in 2005.