If you lost the world’s most expensive painting, where would you look for it? If you said on a Saudi superyacht, then you guessed right. Back in 2017, Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi sold for AUD$591 million at auction. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bader bin Abdulla bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud took possession of the painting, but what happened next is a mystery.
Apparently, the painting was going to be a gift to Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Abu Dhabi and was planned to be displayed at the Louvre as a part of the exhibition honouring the 500th anniversary of Da Vinci’s death. But the painting never showed up. It had seemingly disappeared without a trace. According to journalist Kenny Schachter, who worked for Artnet and who also tracked the painting down, the Salvator Mundi was sent to Mohammed bin Salman’s yacht, the Serene, instead.
An even greater mystery might just be the truth about the painting itself. The Louvre insisted on listing the painting as being from Da Vinci’s workshop, not as one of his works. Ben Lewis’s book The Lost Leonardo also identifies the painting as coming from his studio, and most likely being simply a copy of a lost original that had been overpainted. An expert from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has said that it was most likely painted by Da Vinci’s assistant, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio.
Regardless of who actually painted the work, keeping it on a yacht may not be the best choice. Aside from security concerns, a painting that old requires a certain climate to maintain it. Thankfully that’s not the long-term plan. The Saudis are working on a planned cultural hub in the Al-Ula region of Saudi Arabia, with the hope of it becoming a destination for Western art. Displaying Salvator Mundi there would be a great step in that direction.