The exhibition of a 500-year-old painting, Salvator Mundi, by Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre, Abu Dhabi, has been temporarily postponed, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism announced on Monday.
The painting was initially scheduled to be displayed on September 18.
The celebrated 14th-century painting, at one time bought for $40, was sold for $450m at an auction in New York at Christie’s in November 2017.
It has now surpassed the second-highest-priced painting in the world (Willem de Kooning’s Interchange, 1955) by around $150m, granting it the indisputable title of the world’s most expensive painting.
The buyer of the once-lost painting, according to the New York Times, is Saudi prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud.
However, the AP news agency did not confirm the identity of the buyer and instead quoted a Western diplomat, who said he was a “Saudi Royal acting as a proxy for the Saudi prince”, with close ties to Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.
Mystery has surrounded how Abu Dhabi’s Louvre museum acquired it. The Saudi embassy in Washington said the Saudi royal purchased the painting on behalf of the museum in Abu Dhabi.
It was temporarily caught in an anonymous bidding war between a Saudi and a UAE prince, according to the Daily Mail tabloid. Quoting an anonymous source, the British tabloid said that each prince thought their rival was Qatar.
“The bidding started to get high, and each of them thought they were bidding against the Qataris, and didn’t want them to get it,” the tabloid reported, quoting a source close to the Emirati leader.
‘Savior of the World’
Salvator Mundi will be the second da Vinci painting to be displayed at the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, the other one being La Belle Ferronniere (1490), a portrait of an unknown French woman.
The painting itself is a depiction of Jesus Christ holding a crystal orb in his left hand while giving a blessing with his right hand. The phrase “Salvator Mundi” is Latin for “Savior of the World”.
King Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany are believed to have commissioned the painting after the conquests of Milan and Genoa in 1500. Since then, it went in and out of the hands of various European kings, until 1763, when it went missing and did not surface again for 150 years.
After that, it was in the hands of various art dealers initially in London and subsequently the US, where last year it was put up for sale for $450m at Christie’s.
Since the record sale was announced almost 30,000 people flocked to see it in exhibitions across Hong Kong, New York and San Francisco – which is the first time the painting has ever been shown to the public in Asia or the Americas.
Abu Dhabi is eager to display the most expensive piece of art, painted by one of the most well-known painters of the Renaissance period. However, some scholars dispute that is Leonardo da Vinci’s work.
Oxford Art historian Matthew Landrus argues in an upcoming book that Leonardo’s assistant, Luini, painted the majority of Salvator Mundi. He estimates Leonardo only drew around 20 percent of the painting, particularly in places where you can spot his “sfumato” technique.
However, academics and art historians widely believe the painting can be attributed to da Vinci.