Saudi prince is $450.3 mn Da Vinci art buyer at auction

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Prince Bader is part of the Farhan branch of the royal family, which traces its lineage to an 18th-century Saudi ruler, not to King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, the founder of the modern-day kingdom. The painting, one of fewer than 20 surviving by the Renaissance Master, sold for $450m at Christie's in NY on 15 November.

The New York Times reported that it was bought by Saudi prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud.

Although Prince Badar did not respond to The Times' detailed request for comment, the Louvre in Abu Dhabi - a museum in the United Arab Emirates - tweeted Wednesday that the "Salvator Mundi" was "coming to Louvre Abu Dhabi", The Times said.

The latter detail, however, was in fact far from reassuring: Saudi Arabia's many princes have caused quite a stir in the news lately, as last month the country's government detained more than 200 people in a crackdown on corruption and embezzled funds amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars, which included singling out many of its most prominent princes. But the timing on this purchase was notable. "The image of the crown prince spending that much money to buy a painting when he's supposed to be leading an anticorruption drive is staggering", an expert on Saudi Arabia and former Central Intelligence Agency officer told the WSJ. Most are being detained at a luxury hotel in the capital, Riyadh.

Christie's representatives attempted to identify Prince Bader and his source of finances before the sale, after he gave a $100 million deposit to qualify for the auction, The Times said.

Prince Mohammed, in turn, has been called an admirer of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

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Christie's let the cat out of the bag yesterday and publically said the artwork would be going to the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The choice of painting is also curious.

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 Journal says the painting was offered to the royal family in Qatar - Saudi Arabia's regional rival - in 2011 for a mere $80 million.

He is paying for the iconic painting in six installments, with at least five of them priced at more than $58million, the Times reported. 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.

A Leonardo da Vinci painting of Jesus Christ sold for $450 million. Russian billionaire Dmitry E. Rybolovlev was the previous owner, who paid $127.5 million in 2013.

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