Auctions often resemble action-packed events, filled with adrenaline that could rival the excitement of a soccer match. This was certainly the case with the auction of Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, an event teeming with excitement, affluence, competition, and unbelievably high bids. It’s well-known that Leonardo da Vinci’s rediscovered portrait of Jesus Christ was sold at auction for $450.3 million in 2017, setting the record for the most expensive artwork ever sold. The auction room was electrified, particularly because a relatively unknown Prince Bader of Saudi Arabia was participating via telephone, represented by Alex Rotter, the co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art at the auction house. The bidding war involved three anonymous bidders on the phone, represented by proxies, while major dealers and collectors from around the world witnessed this historic moment at Christie’s, New York, in November 2017.
The auction started at $100 million, a figure that seemed modest to the bidders who immediately escalated the price by $10 million, bringing the painting to $225 million in no time. At this point, Salvator Mundi had already surpassed the record set by Picasso’s Women of Algiers, which was auctioned for $179.4 million at Christie’s in 2015. The bidding pace slowed slightly, with increments reducing to $5 million. This was a clear signal for the third bidder to bow out, realizing the auction was far from over.
With two anonymous bidders remaining, including Prince Bader and another represented by François de Poortere, the head of old master paintings at Christie’s, the bidding continued until it reached $330 million. Observers might have thought the end was near, but Prince Bader, determined and financially robust, made a staggering $30 million jump to $400 million after 19 minutes of intense bidding.
This move was unprecedented in the art world. “I’ve been attending auctions for decades, and I’ve never heard the room let out a collective gasp like they did when it sold,” remarked Joanne Heyler, founding director of the Broad, a Los Angeles museum. “The level of bidding is hard for me to even comprehend.”
Allegedly, the anonymous bidders, in addition to Prince Bader, were the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed Bin Zayed, and the Qatari ruling family. The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and the UAE was palpable, with each side assuming they were outbidding the Qataris, refusing to relinquish their bragging rights.
According to a source close to the Emirati leader, speaking to the Daily Mail, the bidding escalated because each party thought they were competing against the Qataris and were determined not to let them win. ‘So they gave their proxies instructions, saying, ‘You can go as high as you want; just make sure you get it.’ In an unprecedented auction event, the painting’s price skyrocketed to a breathtaking $400 million, and finally, the Emiratis conceded.
The final price for Salvator Mundi reached $450 million after including the buyer’s additional fees, with Prince Bader agreeing to pay in one lump sum upon the sale’s completion. The staggering final price of $450 million was unforeseen even for the mighty Saudi crown prince, leading to the drafting of a contract specifying six monthly installments of $58,385,416, according to The NY Times.
Who is Prince Bader of Saudi Arabia?
HH Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s first Minister of Culture. A law graduate from King Saud University in Riyadh, he has also served as the chairman of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG), one of the largest media publishing companies in the Middle East. Through his various cultural roles, he is at the forefront of developing the Kingdom’s arts and culture sector. His participation in the acquisition of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi brought him into the global spotlight. More recently, he has been appointed as the Governor of the Royal Commission for AlUla, a region undergoing rapid development under the guidance of Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
How did Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi become the world’s most expensive painting?
Although not as iconic as the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper, Salvator Mundi commands a value of $450 million, making it the world’s most expensive painting. Initially owned by Russian tycoon Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, the painting depicts Christ in blue robes, holding a clear orb. The painting’s significance was magnified by Christie’s marketing, which hailed it as “the male Mona Lisa” and showcased it globally. It is rumored that Saudi Crown Prince MBS is planning to construct a dedicated museum to display this unparalleled masterpiece.