4An unnamed bidder apparently acting on behalf of the Saudi crown prince paid $50 million for the painting “Salvator Mundi” in 2017. Supposedly it comes from Leonardo da Vinci, which experts strongly doubt. Since the auction, which made the panel painting, which had previously only been exhibited once, the most expensive work of art of all time, the controversial Renaissance work has disappeared from the scene without a trace. It is rumored to be hanging in a Swiss bonded warehouse or on Mohammed bin Salman’s private yacht.
At the Cheltenham Literature Festival, the British art historian Martin Kemp fueled the expectation that the depiction of Christ as the “savior of the world” could soon come to light again. Kemp said he was able to view the painting in Saudi Arabia at bin Salman’s invitation and learned that the crown prince was planning to build a museum dedicated to the work to house it. The art gallery could be completed in 2024.
Kemp, professor emeritus of art history at Oxford University, was instrumental in attributing the painting, which art dealers acquired in New Orleans in 2005 for just over $1,000, to Leonardo. The heavily restored painting’s subsequent career is unprecedented. The London National Gallery presented it in 2011 as part of a major Leonardo show, thereby ennobling it. It was then marketed by Christie’s as the “male Mona Lisa”. Accordingly, in 2019 – a year after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in which he is said to have been involved – the Saudi crown prince is said to have pushed for the picture to be shown next to the “Mona Lisa” in the course of the Leonardo retrospective in the Louvre in Paris, almost as equal. Ultimately, the “Salvator Mundi” was not exhibited there. It only seems logical that bin Salman would instead want to create a frame for his trophy according to his taste, in order to show it and thus himself to the world.