Saudi prince leading anti-corruption crackdown revealed as buyer of $450mn da Vinci painting

Saudi prince leading anti-corruption crackdown revealed as buyer of $450mn da Vinci painting
A painting by the Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci, sold by Christie’s auction house last month, was bought by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to US government intelligence sources, as quoted by WSJ.

The masterpiece was sold at more than $450 million, setting a world record and creating one of the biggest mysteries at the same time. The auction was carried out by telephone, and the buyer was not disclosed. The former owner of the painting is Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who bought it in 2013 for $127.5 million in a private sale.

The painting, called “Salvator Mundi,” or “Savior of the World,” is one of fewer than 20 paintings by Leonardo known to exist and the only one in private hands. The 66-centimeters-tall work of art dates from around 1500 and shows Christ dressed in Renaissance-style robes with his right hand raised in blessing and his left hand carrying a crystal sphere.

People close to the issue told the media that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had used a proxy to purchase the 500-year-old painting. US officials reportedly keep a close eye on the 32-year-old prince, who has recently launched a crackdown against corruption in the oil-rich kingdom.

“The image of the crown prince spending that much money to buy a painting when he’s supposed to be leading an anti-corruption drive is staggering,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and leading expert on Saudi politics, as quoted by the media.

Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed, the crown prince’s distant relative, became a nominal buyer, “but he is a proxy for Mohammed bin Salman,” a Middle East art-world figure familiar with the purchase told the media.

On Wednesday, Louvre Abu Dhabi, an art and civilization museum which opened last month, tweeted that “Salvator Mundi” would be exhibited there, with no timeline for the event provided.

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