Did you know? Back in November 2017, a 20-minute long bidding war took place at the Christie’s sale room in New York, where a masterpiece allegedly made by Leonardo da Vinci was also at stake.
The painting, titled Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World), has been referred to as the male version of Mona Lisa. It managed to catch the attention of many rich people from all corners of the globe. Price deals were made by millionaires and museums in China, the US, Qatar, Russia and also Saudi Arabia.
The day before the auction sale was opened, it was estimated that the da Vinci painting would be auctioned off for USD$100 million (~RM 412 million). But what they didn’t know was that the masterpiece was already bought with a much higher price, which was USD$450 million (~RM 2 billion). Curious to know who had purchased the item? The buyer was revealed to be the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman, or MBS in short.
The price bought by MBS has in turn set a record as the most expensive artwork ever sold at a public auction event. The record was previously held by former Qatari prime minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani who bought USD$179 million (~RM737.5 million) worth of artwork for Pablo Picasso’s work entitled “Women of Algiers (Version O)” in 2015.
However, there was a rumour saying that the Salvator Mundi painting bought by MBS wasn’t the original one painted by da Vinci. The documentary show called “A Saviour Of Sale” claimed that although some leading scholars considered the Salvator Mundi art piece as one of da Vinci’s original work, there were also other experts who argued that da Vinci only contributed “certain” elements to the painting alone.
After purchasing the painting in 2017, MBS planned to exhibit the masterpiece in Abu Dhabi for 2 years. The Saudi prince then travelled to Paris in 2019 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death.
While in the city, the RM2 billion worth painting underwent various tests conducted by the museum, and the results turned out very shocking. According to a source, the work was not da Vinci’s original artwork. The claim was further strengthened by the expert view, saying that the painting was only made at da Vinci’s studio, but NOT from da Vinci himself.
On the day when the art museum opened to the public to commemorate the Renaissance polymath, the painting in question didn’t make an appearance in the exhibition. This incident not only sparked everyone’s questions about the art piece’s real creator, but it also has in turn caused a diplomatic friction between Saudi Arabia and France.
The Saudi royal family became enraged after being told that the Salvator Mundi piece which His Highness had purchased was fake. They not only insisted for it to be exhibited but wanted the painting to be placed right next to Mona Lisa. There were also reports stating that the Saudis were willing to lobby France if the painting was allowed to be displayed. This came amid concerns among investors that the issue will affect strategic and economic ties between the two countries.
MBS’s request was initially rejected by the museum. They argued that the Mona Lisa painting was kept in a specially built room and it couldn’t accommodate 30,000 visitors. It was also firmly rejected by the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, on the grounds that he could not let France’s credibility be put at risk.
So, how much did the Salvator Mundi artwork cost back in 2005, you ask? In this case, MBS could buy the painting at a much cheaper price. 16 years ago, it was sold for USD$1,175 (RM4,851) by an art dealer in New York. After undergoing several restoration tests, the painting was finally confirmed by some English artists as a long-lost artwork made by da Vinci.
It was later displayed at The National Gallery in London, before being purchased by the Russian oligarchs for USD$127.5 million (~RM525.3 million) in 2013. The painting has never appeared in public since. Many believed that MBS keeps the work of art in his luxurious warehouse in Switzerland.
Some also argued that the work was placed somewhere at MBS’ royal palace. However, in the documentary series, it is said that the Salvator Mundi painting was kept at his Highness’s lavish mega yacht known as Serene. The luxury cruise boat reportedly has two helipads, luxury cabins and three swimming pools.
However, many experts criticised the Saudi Arabian prince’s action. As pointed out by them, even if the 500-year-old work was hung in a luxury yacht, it would get tarnished quickly as the painting required close protection and proper temperature control.
And while the controversy surrounding the most expensive painting ever discovered remains unsolved, many believe that Salvator Mundi will continue to hang on MBS’ yacht for some time to come.