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In October, when Christie’s announced that it would be auctioning off Salvator Mundi, the last known Leonardo da Vinci painting still in private hands, the art world reacted with a mix of awe and trepidation. Would the buyer share the work with the public? Or would he or she squirrel it away in a tax-free, climate-controlled warehouse in Switzerland?
The questions only intensified after Christie’s global president, Jussi Pylkannen, struck his gavel to certify a record-shattering $450-million bid from an unknown buyer. Last week, New York Times Cairo bureau chief David Kirkpatrick solved the art world’s most pressing mystery when he traced the purchase to a little-known Saudi prince name Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud.
Days later, it was announced that Salvator Mundi, a portrait of Christ as savior of the world, would join the collection of the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi. Today, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism confirmed that the painting will be displayed alongside Da Vinci's La Belle Ferronière, one of several masterpieces on loan from the Louvre in Paris, including Edouard Manet’s Fife player.
The Emirati capital marks the endpoint of a remarkable, 500-year shaggy-dog journey that took Salvator Mundi from Leonardo’s studio in Italy to the collection of England’s ill-fated Charles I, to Buckingham Palace (then Buckingham House), and—after changing hands a few more times—to complete obscurity. By 1958, when it appeared in a postwar auction in London, it was so thoroughly and ineptly overpainted that nobody recognized it as a Da Vinci; it sold for £45 before disappearing again. It was only authenticated (and fully restored) in the last decade.
When the Louvre loans return to Paris, Salvator Mundi will remain behind as the jewel of Abu Dhabi’s collection.