Mystery Salvator Mundi buyer was a Saudi prince

Mystery Salvator Mundi buyer was a Saudi prince

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, acting through a friend and distant cousin, was the true buyer behind the purchase of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" for a record-breaking US$450.3 million (S$608.94 million), U.S. officials and an Arab familiar with the arrangement said on Thursday (Dec 7).

For weeks, the buyer's identity remained unknown but on Wednesday, records uncovered by the New York Times finally revealed Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud as the affluent art aficionado. The mass purge was in fact ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who organized a series of midnight arrests that included 11 of his royal cousins-who happens to be one of Prince Bader's friends and associates.

Christie's let the cat out of the bag yesterday and publically said the artwork would be going to the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

He had bought the painting in 2013 for $127.5 million although he later accused a Swiss art dealer of overcharging him.

"Salvator Mundi" - dated to around 1500 - is the last known Da Vinci in the hands of a private collector. The Louvre Abu Dhabi has been dubbed "the first universal museum in the Arab world". A depiction of any prophet in the Quran including Jesus who is an accepted Muslim prophet and precursor to Mohammed would be considered unholy.

The painting will go in the new branch of the Louvre at Abu Dhabi.

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The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened on November 8 in the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron, who described the new museum as a 'bridge between civilizations'.

A spokeswoman for Christie's said it did not comment on the identities of any buyer or seller without their permission. Buyers from the Middle East and Asia have been snapping up masterpieces to fill regional museums in China and the Middle East.

The ethereal portrait invites comparisons to Da Vinci's most famous work, Mona Lisa.

It then disappeared until 1900 when it was acquired by Sir Charles Robinson as a work by Leonardo's follower, Bernardino Luini, for the Cook Collection, Doughty House, Richmond.

Some art critics say it lacks the vitality of da Vinci's work, and that it has been painted and scrubbed a number of times.

The island will also feature the Zayed National Museum, which had signed a loan deal with the British Museum - although the arrangement has come increasingly into question due to construction delays.

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