A Christie & # 39; s spokeswoman, the auction house that sold "Salvator Mundi," said she did not comment on the identity of any buyer or seller without her permission. Prince Badar did not respond to a detailed request for comment. But while The Times was pushing for an answer on Wednesday, the newly opened branch of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, tweeted that the painting "is coming to the Louvre Abu Dhabi." The crown prince of Arabia is a close ally of his counterpart in Abu Dhabi.
Documents provided from within Saudi Arabia and reviewed by The Times reveal that the buyer's representative, Prince Bader, did not present him as bidder until the day before the sale. He was such an unknown figure that Christie's executives struggled to establish their identity and financial means. And even after having provided a deposit of $ 100 million to qualify for the auction, Christie's lawyers conducting due diligence on potential bidders pressed him with two punctual questions:
Where did you get the money? And what was your relationship with the Saudi ruler, King Salman?
Real estate, Prince Bader replied, without giving further details. He was just one of the 5,000 princes, he told the auction house, according to documents and people involved.
Less than two weeks earlier, on November 4, the crown prince had ordered the suppression of more than 200 of the richest in Saudi Arabia. princes, businessmen and government officials. The kingdom had been squeezed by years of low oil prices, and Prince Mohammed was trying to recover hundreds of billions of dollars in alleged illicit profits.
"Salvator Mundi" represented an important purchase of prestige in the art world, if it is controversial. Some experts questioned whether the painting was a true Leonardo. Some were simply not impressed. The previous owner of the painting, Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, is a Russian billionaire who bought a $ 95 million Florida home from Donald J. Trump almost a decade ago. Mr. Rybolovlev had paid $ 127.5 million for the painting in 2013, less than a third of its selling price last month, and is still locked in a lawsuit with the seller who sold it for that high price, among other transactions .  For Prince Bader, paying such an unprecedented sum for a painting of Christ also ran the risk of offending the religious sensibilities of his Muslim compatriots. Muslims teach that Jesus was not the savior but a prophet. And most Muslims, especially clerics in Saudi Arabia, consider that the artistic representation of any of the prophets is a form of sacrilege.
Prince Bader comes from a minor branch of the royal family, the Farhan, descended from a brother of a Saudi ruler of the eighteenth century. They do not trace their lineage to the founder of the modern kingdom, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud. But Prince Bader is a contemporary of Prince Mohammed. They attended King Saud University in Riyadh almost at the same time, if not together. And after King Salman, now 81, took the throne in 2015 and appointed Prince Mohammed to lead much of the government, he appointed Prince Bader for high profile positions, including one closely related to the family.
The Salman branch of the royal family has traditionally controlled the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, which publishes the pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat and other publications. After almost 30 years of passing the presidency of the group from one Salman to another, King Salman and Prince Mohammed put Prince Bader in office.