Hanging in the Louvre: End of the Middle East's Leonardo da Vinci mystery?

Hanging in the Louvre: End of the Middle East's Leonardo da Vinci mystery?
Abu Dhabi has purchased a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, which the UAE and Saudi Arabia will hope end rumours Mohammed bin Salman purchased the $500 million painting.
2 min read
09 December, 2017
Louvre will display the Da Vinci masterpiece [Getty]
A mystery centred on a Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece that enthralled the Middle East art community this week appears to be solved, after the Abu Dhabi's department of culture announced it was the secret buyer of the painting.

Salvator Mundi was sold in auction for a record $450 million last month and will become the centrepiece of the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The news that Abu Dhabi and not Saudi Arabia were behind the sale was confirmed by UAE Minister of Culture Noura al-Kaabi  in a tweet.

News that the Da Vinci artwork was snapped up by a mystery telephone buyer last month sent the art world and media into a frenzy, as journalists tried to figure out who was behind the sale of the century.

A little known Saudi Prince Badr bin Abdullah al-Saud was named as the buyer in the report by media who was later linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Later it was reported by the New York Times and Wall Street Journal that "US intelligence" indicated it was in fact bin Salman who bought the piece using Badr as an middle man.

That theory was put to bed when Abu Dhabi confirmed it acquired the painting although some outlets insist Saudi Arabia gifted it to close ally, the UAE.

"Christie's can confirm that the department of culture and tourism, Abu Dhabi, is acquiring Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci," the auction house said in a statement on Friday. 

"We are delighted to see that this remarkable painting will be available for public view at the Louvre Abu Dhabi."

Louvre Abu Dhabi opened after years of delays in October, but the project was marred with accusations by human rights groups that workers constructing the gallery were treated as "modern day slaves".

This led to an embarrassing boycott for Abu Dhabi by 120 of the world's leading artists.