Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has undertaken an anti-corruption campaign, bought the painting using a distant relative as a "proxy", the newspaper said Thursday, citing a source in the US government intelligence community and a Saudi art-world figure familiar with the purchase. The painting, one of fewer than 20 surviving by the Renaissance Master, sold for $450m at Christie's in NY on 15 November.
Normally, news of a wealthy and powerful member of Saudi Arabia's royal family buying a piece of art would not raise any interest. According to documents provided to the auction house and reviewed by The New York Times, Prince Bader listed that his fortune comes from "real estate". It came just two weeks after Crown Prince Mohammed launched an anti-corruption campaign, rounding up more than 200 Saudi businessmen, ministers and princes.
Prince Bader, in a statement published Thursday in a Saudi newspaper owned by a company he leads, said he had "read with great surprise the report published about me in The New York Times newspaper and the unusual and inaccurate information it contained". We now know that the Louvre Abu Dhabi is going to exhibit "Salvator Mundi", However, the identity of the buyer had remained an elusive secret with much speculation surrounding the purchaser.
Prince Bader did not present himself as a bidder until the day before the auction. Christie's pressed him to establish both his identity and the source of his money. IBT speculates that this might be an indication that Crown Prince Mohammed is a supporter of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
But as The Times was pressing for a response on Wednesday, the newly opened branch of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, tweeted that the painting "is coming to Louvre Abu Dhabi". Louvre Abu Dhabi is a joint project between the French government and the city of Abu Dhabi, to which Saudi's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is a close ally.
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The choice of painting is also curious.
He is paying for the iconic painting in six installments, with at least five of them priced at more than $58million, the Times reported.
Painted in oil on a wooden board measuring 18 by 26 inches, "Salvator Mundi" shows its subject gazing dreamily at the viewer, his right hand raised in benediction, while his left clutches a crystal orb.
The stunning amount paid by a Saudi royal for a painting that some believe is not a genuine Da Vinci, like reports of Mohammed bin Salman's profilgacy on yachts and similar luxury items, casts in sharp doubt Riyadh's claims of cracking down on extravagence and corruption. The painting's authenticity is still widely questioned by many experts, while the issue of overpainting, restoration and conservation will always be an underlying issue.