According to the New York Times, the painting’s buyer was not the museum but an outside party: one Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, a “little-known” Saudi Arabian prince with no history as an art collector.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened on Nov. 11, has been one of the “most aggressive buyers on the global art market over the last decade,” according to Bloomberg.
These acquisitions, including that of “Salvator Mundi,” are probably part of a dedicated effort to raise the global cultural profile of the UAE.
Prince Bader’s purchase of the painting is surprising for a number of reasons, as the New York Times noted.
First, the painting portrays Jesus, whom many Muslims believe to be a prophet. Most who practice Islam — the state region of Saudi Arabia — shun visual portrayals of its prophets.
When he placed the required $100 million to participate in the Christie’s auction, lawyers from the auction house asked how he acquired the money, according to documents obtained by the Times.
He reportedly responded that it came from real estate and that he was one of 5,000 princes, saying nothing more.
Finally, the splashy purchase came just as Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was leading a “sweeping crackdown against corruption and self-enrichment” among the country’s elite, as the Times noted.
“Salvator Mundi,” which depicts Jesus holding a crystal orb in his left hand and raising his right in blessing, is one of some 16 known surviving works painted by da Vinci. While most are scattered around the world, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will now have two of these paintings. It displays “La Belle Ferronnière,” which is on loan from the Louvre in Paris, according to Bloomberg.
The painting disappeared several times over the course of history, most recently in 1958 when it was sold alongside the rest of the Cook Collection in London. By then, though, the painting’s origin had been obscured due to overpainting and it was credited to da Vinci’s follower Bernardino Luini. It sold for only 45 pounds or about $125 today, CNN reported.
New York-based art collector and da Vinci expert Robert Simon and art dealer Alexander Parish found the painting in Louisiana in 2005 and purchased it for $10,000.
It then underwent a six-year restoration and verification process.
In 2013, a consortium of dealers including Simon, Parish and Warren Adelson sold “Salvator Mundi” for $80 million to a company owned by a Swiss businessman and art dealer Yves Bouvier, Bloomberg reported. Bouvier, in turn, sold it to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for $127.5 million in 2014.
Rybolovlev owned the painting until Nov. 15, when Prince Bader made it the world’s most expensive painting by shelling out $450,312,500 for it. Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger” (“Women of Algiers”) held the previous record of $179,364,992.
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