The world’s most expensive painting, Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” is going to the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, the museum announced Wednesday, a few weeks after it was sold for a record amount at auction in New York.
Speculation has swirled around who bought the painting, which was auctioned off at Christie’s last month for $450 million.
Christie's declined to identify the buyer of the 500-year-old painting but media reports point to the Saudi royal family. The New York Times reported Tuesday that documents it reviewed identify the painting's anonymous buyer as a little-known Saudi prince, Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Bader was actually acting as a proxy for Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Whoever the owner is, the painting appears headed at least temporarily to the newly opened branch of the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi, the museum announced Wednesday in a tweet.
“Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi is coming to #LouvreAbuDhabi,” the museum wrote.
A Christie's spokesperson told Bloomberg, "We are delighted that the work will again be on public view."
"Salvator Mundi" is Italian for "Savior of the World." The painting of Christ is one of fewer than 20 paintings by the Renaissance master known to exist and the only one in private hands.
The 26-inch-tall Leonardo painting dates from around 1500 and shows Christ dressed in Renaissance-style robes, his right hand raised in blessing as his left hand holds a crystal sphere.
Its path from Leonardo's workshop to the auction block at Christie's was not smooth. Once owned by King Charles I of England, it disappeared from view until 1900, when it resurfaced and was acquired by a British collector. At that time it was attributed to a Leonardo disciple, rather than to the master himself.
The painting was sold again in 1958 and then was acquired in 2005, badly damaged and partly painted-over, by a consortium of art dealers who paid less than $10,000. The art dealers restored the painting and documented its authenticity as a work by Leonardo.
The painting was sold by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who bought it in 2013 for $127.5 million in a private sale that became the subject of a continuing lawsuit.
Christie's said most scholars agree that the painting is by Leonardo, though some critics have questioned the attribution and some say the extensive restoration muddies the work's authorship.
The highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction had been $179.4 million, for Pablo Picasso's painting "Women of Algiers (Version O)" in May 2015, also at Christie's in New York. The highest known sale price for any artwork had been $300 million, for Willem de Kooning's painting "Interchange," sold privately in September 2015 by the David Geffen Foundation to hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin.