Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP
The mystery about who paid a record $ 450 million for the painting by Leonardo da Vinci Salvator Mundi at an auction last month seems to have been solved. It turns out that it is the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.
According to US intelligence officials UU They watch closely the young and powerful crown prince of the kingdom, says The Wall Street Journal.
The winning bid on November 15 auction at Christie's in New York was made anonymously over the phone with a Christie & # 39; s representative. The New York Times reported earlier that the documents showed that another member of the royal family, Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, made the final offer. But intelligence officials say that Bader was only a substitute for Crown Prince Mohammed.
Normally, the news that a wealthy and powerful member of the royal family of Saudi Arabia will buy a work of art will not arouse any interest. But the moment in this purchase was remarkable. It came just two weeks after Crown Prince Mohammed launched an anti-corruption campaign, arresting more than 200 Saudi businessmen, ministers and princes. Most are detained in a luxury hotel in the capital, Riyadh.
The buyer's identity became something like a parlor game. Even Christie's executives had doubts about who he was.
Prince Bader did not appear as bidder until the day before the auction. At that time deposited a deposit of $ 100 million to qualify to bid. Christie pressed him to establish both his identity and the source of his money. The prince's response was that he made his money in real estate, and that he was only one of the 5,000 Saudi princes.
A spokeswoman for Christie & # 39; s did not comment on the identity of the buyer, but confirmed that the painting would be displayed at the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, a branch of the Louvre Museum in Paris . Louvre Abu Dhabi also tweeted that the painting would go there.
The choice of painting is also curious. Salvator Mundi portrays Jesus holding an orb in his left hand while raising his right. Saudi Arabia adheres to a strict form of Islam that avoids visual representations of religious figures.
The Journal says that the painting was offered to the royal family in Qatar – Saudi Arabia's regional rival – in 2011 for a mere $ 80 million. They rejected it and they did not make an offer this time.
There are also questions about the authenticity of the painting. Some art critics say that it lacks the vitality of da Vinci's work, and that it has been painted and mopped several times.
The previous owner of Salvator Mundi was a Russian businessman, Dmitry Rybolovlev, who bought it for $ 127 million in 2013.