The purchase made headlines over the world when it was made at Christie’s New York in November 2017 by a minor Saudi royal thought to have been acting on behalf of bin Salman, also known as MBS.
The unwitting prince said later that “Salvator Mundi” would become a star of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The painting was also due to be lent to the Louvre in Paris for a show marking the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death in the autumn.
However, the display in Abu Dhabi was reportedly canceled two weeks before schedule and its loan to Paris will also not happen.
Historian Ben Lewis says that has a reason.
“The Louvre Paris have asked the Louvre Abu Dhabi if they could borrow it for their exhibition — that’s official. But my inside sources at the Louvre, various sources, tell me that not many Louvre curators think this is an autograph [real] Leonardo da Vinci and if they did exhibit it, they really want to exhibit it as ‘workshop,’” Lewis said.
He said that it was very unlikely for the painting to be exhibited as “Leonardo workshop,” because “its value will go down to somewhere north of $1.5 million.”
“If a picture cannot show its face, that is really damning for the art world,” Lewis said, adding, “It is almost like it has become the Saudi’s latest political prisoner,” tacitly referring to scandalous detentions of Saudi royals on an order by bin Salman.
Last year, scholars and restorers, who were concerned about Salvator Mundi’s whereabouts, called on Saudi royals to confirm its location.
The work of art depicts Christ as his right hand is raised in benediction and a crystal orb representing Earth rests on in his left hand.