Record-breaking Leonardo painting goes to Louvre Abu Dhabi

Joann Johnston
December 7, 2017

A Leonardo da Vinci painting of Christ that sold in NY for a record $450 million (380 million euros) is heading to a museum in the United Arab Emirates.

The work sold for $450m (with fees) at Christie's in NY on 15 November. He provided a $100m deposit to qualify for the auction and said he acquired his wealth through real estate when asked by Christie's as part of its due diligence check.

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.

Christie's said that most scholars, however, still believe that the Salvator Mundi they recently sold was the one painted by da Vinci.

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. The loan of the Salvator Mundi may be seen as a gesture of friendship reinforcing this relationship.

Christie's said the artwork will be going to the museum, but declined to say whether the Louvre Abu Dhabi bought the painting.

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The Louvre Abu Dhabi, the first museum to bear the Louvre name outside France, has been billed as "the first universal museum in the Arab world", in a sign of the oil-rich emirate's global ambitions. The Louvre in Paris, which estimates that almost six million visitors came to see Leonardo's Mona Lisa.

The newspaper said that the work will be lent or resold to museums, largely in the Middle East and Asia.

During last month's auction, Salvator Mundi or Savior of the World was described by Alan Wintermute, a spokesperson for Christie's auction house, as the greatest art discovery of the 21 century. Now the painting that far surpassed the former record held by Picasso's Women of Algiers (which fetched $179.4 million in 2015) has found a new home.

It is one of fewer than 20 paintings by the Renaissance master known to exist and the only one in private hands. It now displays "La Belle Ferronnière", which is on loan from the Louvre in Paris, according to Bloomberg.

The aforementioned work of Leonardo da Vinci, previously owned by Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev, is the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction.

He had bought the painting in 2013 for $127.5m although he later accused a Swiss art dealer of overcharging him.

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