Saudi prince is $450.3 mn Da Vinci art buyer at auction

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, acting through a friend and distant cousin, was the true buyer behind the purchase of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" for a record-breaking US$450.3 million (S$608.94 million), United States officials and an Arab familiar with the arrangement said on Thursday (Dec 7).

The revelation that Prince Bader is the purchaser, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times, links one of the most captivating mysteries of the art world with palace intrigues in Saudi Arabia that are shaking the region. The painting, one of fewer than 20 surviving by the Renaissance Master, sold for $450m at Christie's in NY on 15 November.

On Wednesday, the museum announced on Twitter in Arabic, English and French that the art work was heading to the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.

'Salvator Mundi, ' which means 'Savior of the World, ' went on public display in 2011 in a dramatic unveiling at The National Gallery in London, where the work was declared to be the first newly discovered Da Vinci painting in a century. A depiction of any prophet in the Quran including Jesus who is an accepted Muslim prophet and precursor to Mohammed would be considered unholy.

The painting will reportedly be featured at the Louvre Abu Dhabi which opened last month, according to Al Jazeera.

It has strong links to the world famous Louvre in Paris and has borrowed 300 pieces of art from France.

And even before the disclosure of the record-breaking purchase in a NY art auction by one of his associates, Prince Mohammed's extravagance had already raised eyebrows, most notably with the impulse purchase two years ago in the south of France of a Russian vodka titan's 440-foot yacht, for half a billion dollars. Over 600 objects and paintings have been loaned to the museum.

A spokeswoman for Christie's, the auction house that sold Salvator Mundi, said it did not comment on the identities of any buyers or sellers without their permission. Buyers from the Middle East and Asia have been snapping up masterpieces to fill regional museums in China and the Middle East.

Salvator Mundi was owned by King Charles I of England in the mid-1600s and was auctioned by the son of the Duke of Buckingham in 1763.

A portrait of Christ said to be the work of Renaissance master Leonardo Da Vinci has sold for a record-breaking US$450 million at auction.

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