Abu Dhabi to display the world’s most expensive painting … just not yet

The opening of ‘the first world in the Arab world’ – Louvre Abu Dhabi levitated the region into a higher platform of glamour when it opened a year ago on 11th November 2017.

In recent weeks, this repute gained momentum with the news of the museum acquiring one of less than 20 known artworks of the renowned Renaissance painter, Leonardo da Vinci. The Salvator Mundi was supposed to go up on display on the 18th of this month, but plans have been postponed. The Department of Culture and Tourism of Abu Dhabi made the announcement, with no details of a future date.

This has raised plenty of speculations on why such a move was made for such for the illustrious establishment.

One reason for raised eyebrows is in the fact that the painting could have been a work of art by one of the great art maestro’s pupils, Giovanni Boltraffio, rather than himself.

Another reason could be hovering about the possibility that the painting was bought by the crown prince of Saudi, Mohammed bin Salman. The painting was sold at an auction by Christie’s for a whopping $450.3 million – making it the highest price paid for a piece of art at an auction. The sale whipped up a dust storm of rumours on the identity of the bidders and buyer dring the 20-minute auction, later reported by Reuters that the buyer was Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family. Reports further add that he purchased it on behalf of the museum in Abu Dhabi, and media has strong doubts that he was a proxy for his 33-year old cousin and the Kingdom’s powerful heir.

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A third reason is that the museum is perhaps waiting to unveil this treasure at its Saadiyat Island venue during the first anniversary falling in November.

What makes this painting so special? Here is why.

Dating back to the 1500s, the painting is believed to have been commissioned by French king Louis XII for his wife princess Henrietta Maria. However for 150 years its whereabouts were unknown until it was found in the princess’ inventory in 1651. This was argued by another expert on Leonardo, Margaret Dalivalle, who believed that the painting was perhaps in Duke of Hamilton’s home in London.

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The painting again lost within the pages of history in the 18th and 19th century until it re-emerged in 1958 in New Orleans in the US and was sold for just $60.

In 2007, it was once rediscovered. Researcher Dianne Dwyer Modestini, of the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, helped restore the painting which was eventually put up for auction by Christie’s.

For now we just wait and watch for the Saviour of the World to do his magic and appear in front of the millions who await in earnest.


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