On November 20th, 2017 Art-Trope published an online article about the auction sale of the painting Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci. Christie’s completed the sale of the most expensive canvas in the world for 450 million dollars. The buyer’s identity has just been revealed. It is Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salmane:
A stormy revelation
The announcement of the Prince identity as the anonymous buyer did not go without turbulences. Effectively, it was the New York Times that first stated on December 6th, 2017 that the named buyer was Prince Bader ben Abdullah ben Mohammed ben Farhan Al-Saud. As a result, the very next day, he answered in the Saudi press: “I have read with great surprise the report published about me in the New York Times newspaper and the strange and inaccurate information it contained.” Also, one of the official members of Saudi Arabia’s Embassy refused to comment. Christie’s never revealed the identity but documents from American intelligence analyzed by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal led to the confirmation of the buyer’s identity as well as his middleman. A few days later the Louvre Abu Dhabi announced that they were about to receive the great master’s Artwork in the near future.
A political context that favors anonymity
A purchase of this caliber comes at a moment when the political situation remains complex for the Prince Mohammed ben Salmane. Effectively, he is the main instigator of the unprecedented purge that shook the Saudi elite up in November 2017. As a result, this anti-corruption operation led to the arrest of dozen of political and business personalities. In fact, the purchase of the most expensive Artwork in the world would have felt inappropriate in that context. However, such an action can also be interpreted as a political act. Effectively, until now, it was the Qatar that, among the countries of the Gulf, that turned out to be the most important actor on the Fine Arts market. Nevertheless, Qatar and Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic relations recently went downhill. In fact, Saudi Arabia along with its allies, accused Qatar of supporting extremist movements and bounding with Iran which is Shiite as opposed to Saudi Arabia which is Sunni.
The question of Saudi Arabia’s cultural openness
The purchase of Salvator Mundi which represents Jesus Christ as a savior of the world is an act that is most likely to cause affront to the sensibilities. Effectively, the leading personalities of the Muslim ultraconservatism could be offended. In fact, Muslims consider that Jesus Christ is not a savior but a prophet. Also, Saudi clerics teach that it is forbidden to represent human beings. Therefore, it is forbidden to represent prophets. By purchasing the great master’s canvas, Saudi King Salmane’s son progressively establishes his power. At the same time, it symbolizes the recent evolution of the ultra-conservative kingdom towards certain openness.
Read our article about the exhibition Women House at the Monnaie de Paris here.