March 24, 2018

Mystery Salvator Mundi buyer was a Saudi prince

08 December 2017, 04:16 | Opal Carroll

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Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, believed to be in his early thirties, was described as a little-known prince from a distant branch of the family when he was revealed as the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi for $450 million (£334 million). "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.

The Gulf has been the destination for a number of great art works in recent years, especially with the purchase power of countries like Qatar, which is home to a $300m museum for Islamic Art and has spent hundreds of millions on work by Mark Rothko, Paul Cezanne and Paul Gauguin.

The news initially made a splash on Twitter with many questioning how Prince Bader could afford such an expensive purchase with his lower ranking position in the royal family. But the timing on this purchase was notable.

But the work will give Riyadh bragging rights in a regional tug-of-war for some of the most expensive art works in the world.

The identity of the buyer became something of a parlor game. Even then, Christie's lawyers remained suspicious, persisting in asking him where he got the money and what his relationship was with the Saudi ruler, King Salman.

Prince Mohammed also put Prince Bader in charge of governing a commission overseeing the development of Al Ola, which contains an important archaeological site.

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While The Times was awaiting comment from Prince Bader or the Saudi Embassy in Washington on Wednesday, the newly opened branch of the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, announced that it expected to receive the painting.

The Saudi crown prince is a close ally of his counterpart in Abu Dhabi. Louvre Abu Dhabi also tweeted the painting would be heading its way. Saudi Arabia adheres to a strict form of Islam which shuns visual portrayals of religious figures.

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

There are also questions about the authenticity of the painting.

The work depicts Jesus Christ as a Renaissance man dressed in blue robes. Russian billionaire Dmitry E. Rybolovlev was the previous owner, who paid $127.5 million in 2013.

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