It sounds like a plot straight out of a Dan Brown novel: a mysteriously unearthed Leonardo da Vinci painting, a secret buyer, hundreds of millions of dollars, and a Saudi monarch. Alas, sometimes life is stranger than fiction.
Back in 2017, "Salvator Mundi," a painting depicting Jesus Christ, made headlines as "The Lost Leonardo." Despite quite a bit of debate about its actual origins (and the idea that it served as a prototype of "Mona Lisa"), the work sold at auction for $450 million, making it the most expensive work of art in history.
The official purchase was made by Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, though it was rumored to actually be for the more senior member of the Saudi royal family, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
After the buy was finalized, the piece was said to have been gifted by MBS to Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, and it was set to be a star display at his recently opened local Louvre branch, as well as loaned to the original museum in Paris. However, the institution insisted on attributing the work to "the workshop of Leonardo da Vinci," rather than the artist himself. Seeing as this would severely diminish the 500-year-old painting's value, the deal was dropped and Salvator once again disappeared.
According to ArtNet's Kenny Schachter, the controversial painting has been cruising around on Mohammed Bin Salman's $400 million super yacht, which he purchased from a Russian oligarch in 2016 (after it had been rented to Bill Gates for $5 mil a week). Apparently the plan is to keep it on the water until the Crown Prince's Al Ula region is finished being transformed into a cultural hub; it is believed Salvator will then be put on display there.
So, mystery solved. For now.
[Photo via Christie's]