Has Salvator Mundi Been Found?

After Salvator Mundi sold at Christie's in 2017 for $450 million, the world's most expensive painting disappeared without explanation. Now, Kenny Schachter, a writer for Artnet News, has received crucial information about its current location ...

Has Salvator Mundi Been Found?

Although the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece Salvator Mundi has been mired with questions of authenticity, the real mystery has surrounded its whereabouts after it failed to be exhibited at the Louvre Abu Dhabi last November and was retracted from the blockbuster da Vinci retrospective at the Louvre this coming fall.

Salvator Mundi, Leonardo da Vinci. 1500, oil on canvas. Image: Wikipedia
Salvator Mundi, Leonardo da Vinci. 1500, oil on canvas. Image: Wikipedia

In November 2017, the Saudi prince Bader bin Abdullah Bin Muhammad bin Farhan al-Saud placed the winning bid of $450.3 million for the painting at Christie's, acting for the kingdom's ultimate ruler, Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS). The painting was then entrusted by MBS to Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, recently portrayed as the most powerful Arab ruler in the world by the New York Times, to be shown at the new Louvre in Abu Dhabi, and loaned to the Parisian Louvre for the exhibition celebrating 500 years of Da Vinci's death.

Inside the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Image: Unsplash
Inside the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Image: Unsplash

However, the canvas was suddenly removed from both exhibitions, and has not been seen since, leading to a proliferation of theories about its whereabouts, authenticity and condition.

In an article published last May, the Telegraph pointed out that the Louvre would have insisted on attributing the work to "Leonardo da Vinci's workshop" in its commemorative exhibition because experts have challenged that it is a work entirely by Da Vinci. That request could have pushed MBS to refuse the loan of the work to the museum, since such a change of attribution would be a detriment to the reputation and the value of the painting. 

Moreover, in an article in the Guardian on June 2, the Met's curator, Carmen Bambach, revealed that she had been falsely quoted in the auction house catalog as one of the experts who attributed the work to the artist alone. Bambach remains convinced that Salvator Mundi was painted mostly by his assistant, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio. 

According to journalist Kenny Schachter's sources ("two people involved in the transaction" have claimed that the work was paid for in full), the painting was recovered in the middle of the night by MBS to be relocated to his yacht, the Serene.

The Serene, MBS' yacht. Image: Wikipedia
The Serene, MBS' yacht. Image: Wikipedia

The 440-foot yacht, built in 2011 for Russian billionaire Yuri Shefler, was bought by MBS in 2015 for 500 million euros ($570 million). On May 26, the Serene was located in Sharm el-Sheikh, an Egyptian seaside town located between the desert of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea, according to Bloomberg. Salvator Mundi is said to be kept aboard the luxury yacht until MBS finishes transforming the former Saudi Al-Ula district into a major cultural center. This monumental project will compete directly with the Louvre of Abu Dhabi, but also with the new National Museum of Qatar designed by Jean Nouvel. The project is still "in the design phase," a spokesman said last December. 

The International Communications Center of the Government of Saudi Arabia has not yet commented on Kenny Schatcher's allegations of the painting's location.  

However, the true questions remains: how long will it take to be able to admire the most world's controversial work in a museum?

Header image: © Collage by Kenny Schachter, via Artnet News 

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