$615m da Vinci masterpiece kept on Saudi prince's superyacht

Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci is said to be kept on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's yacht.
Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci is said to be kept on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's yacht.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RIYADH • It made waves at an auction and the painting could now be on a yacht gently lapped by waves.

Salvator Mundi, a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, whose whereabouts has been a mystery since it sold in 2017 for a record US$450 million (S$615 million), has turned up in an unlikely place, according to Artnet.com.

It is being kept on superyacht Serene, which is owned by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the publication reported on Monday, citing two "principals involved in the transaction" that it did not identify.

Another Saudi prince was said to have bought the 500-year-old painting on his behalf at a 2017 Christie's auction, The New York Times reported previously.

Christie's declined to confirm that report.

The Saudi government's Centre for International Communication did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The yacht's location as of May 26 was in the Red Sea off Sharm el-Sheikh, an Egyptian resort town in the Sinai Peninsula, according to Bloomberg ship-tracking data.

While the high seas may not be the best place for a fragile Old Master painting, it is not uncommon for the super-wealthy to decorate their yachts with trophy art.

British business tycoon Joe Lewis hung Francis Bacon's Triptych 1974-1977, worth an estimated US$70 million, on the lower deck of his yacht, Aviva.

Salvator Mundi, whose provenance has been questioned, will remain aboard the 134m Serene until the Saudis create a planned cultural hub in the country's Al-Ula region, Artnet said.

The project was in an "exploratory phase", a spokesman for the commission overseeing the plan said last December.

Experts at the Louvre in Paris have attributed the work to da Vinci's workshop rather than the artist alone, according to a published report.

The painting, in which Jesus Christ is depicted emerging from darkness blessing the world with one hand while holding a transparent globe in the other, has never been exhibited in public.

Artnet said the painting was whisked away in the middle of the night on MBS' plane and relocated to his yacht.

Ms Celine Dauvergne, a spokesman for the Louvre, declined to comment on the painting's attribution, but said the Paris museum has asked to borrow the work for an October exhibition.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2019, with the headline '$615m da Vinci masterpiece kept on Saudi prince's superyacht'. Print Edition | Subscribe