Yesterday, the New York Times claimed to have cracked the biggest art world mystery of the year, identifying an obscure Saudi prince, Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, as the buyer of the $450.3 million Leonardo da Vinci painting "Salvator Mundi" at Christie's last month.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the purchase was executed in the name of Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, and many familiar with the operations of the Saudi royal family presumed that Crown Prince Mohammed, a friend of Prince Bader's, was funding the bid. In addition, according to Energy Holdings ' energy Group portal, from whose governing body Prince Bader is vice-president, Saudi Arabia would have business in telecommunications, real-estate, energy and recycling sectors.
Normally, news of a wealthy and powerful member of Saudi Arabia's royal family buying a piece of art would not raise any interest.
American officials are keeping close tabs on the crown prince, the paper said, citing unnamed sources.
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Bader's purchase of the Christ portrait could potentially upset conservative clerics in the Muslim country, the Times report noted. But the timing on this purchase was notable.
The WSJ reporters cite unnamed United States intelligence officials and a member of the Saudi art community, the latter of whom asserts: "It's a fact that this deal was done via a proxy". 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.
He is paying for the iconic painting in six installments, with at least five of them priced at more than $58million, the Times reported. Louvre Abu Dhabi also tweeted the painting would be heading its way.
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.
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The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened on Nov 8 in the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron, who described the new museum as a "bridge between civilisations".
There are also questions about the authenticity of the painting.
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.
Saudi Prince Identified as Buyer of $450.3M Leonardo Painting "Salvator Mundi"
Meanwhile, Salvator Mundi has had a controversial history , with one expert doubting if it is still the original work of da Vinci. It was later purchased by art dealers, restored and eventually sold to Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev for $127.5 million.