The Louvre Abu Dhabi boasts its robust collection of masterpieces from different masters like Rembrandt, Degas, Monet, van Gogh, Vermeer, Mondrian, and Basquiat. Undoubtedly, it is one of highest-tier among world-class museums around the globe. The famous museum in the Persian Gulf also used to house the world’s most expensive painting ever sold – Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.”
The iconic painting, which has resurfaced recently, has been sold to an anonymous bidder for a hefty amount of $450.3 million at an auction who turned out to be the crowned prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Many mysteries have clouded the existence of the painting over centuries. For a particular time, Salvator Mundi was considered a long-lost work of the great Rennaissance Man until it resurfaced and was restored in France.
Where is Salvator Mundi?
Now, the painting is involved in another mystery that baffles a lot of art historians, enthusiasts, and even law enforcement. The renowned and highly expensive artwork is nowhere to be found. It begs the question: Where in the world is “Salvator Mundi?”
A month after the record-breaking auction sale of the painting, the culture department in Abu Dhabi has announced that it had, for some reasons, acquired the “Salvator Mundi.” They also said that the mysterious and intriguing artwork would be up for an exhibition on September last year but eventually canceled the unveiling for some unknown reasons and without any form of explanation.
Up to this point, the culture department refused to entertain questions regarding the painting and staff of the Louvre Abu Dhabi says privately that they have no idea of the painting’s current whereabouts.
It’s French counterpart, Louvre in Paris, also said that they were not able to locate the “Salvator Mundi,” according to an official in the museum familiar with the discussion with Abu Dhabi. French officials who own the Louvre Museum previously expressed their eagerness to include the “Salvator Mundi” in a landmark exhibition this fall to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s death. They said that they remain hopeful that the painting will resurface right in time for the show.
Many Leonardo experts have communicated their frustration and raised alarms regarding the whereabouts of “Salvator Mundi” especially following Abu Dhabi’s Louvre’s announcement that they would be showing the masterwork to the public in their galleries.
“It is tragic,” said Dianne Modestini, a professor at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts and a conservator who has worked on “Salvator Mundi.” “To deprive the art lovers and many others who were moved by this picture — a masterpiece of such rarity — is deeply unfair.”
Many have articulated their speculations on the whereabouts of the intriguing painting. One theory surfaced that alleging the painting to be not a real Leonardo after all and the new owners just kept it away from public’s eyes to avoid scrutiny and maintain its value. They cite the fact that even the Louvre Abu Dhabi was not able to publicly exhibit the painting.
Others offered the counter-theory that the prince of Saudi just simply wants the painting for himself. They raised the suspicion because it was still unclear how Abu Dhabi acquired the painting as they claimed from the Saudis in the first place – whether by a gift, loan, or private sale. The Suadi embassy in Washington declined to give comments regarding the matter.
Martin Kemp, an Oxford art historian who has studied the painting, described it as “a kind of religious version of the ‘Mona Lisa’” and Leonardo’s “strongest statement of the elusiveness of the divine.”
“I don’t know where it is, either,” he added.
The mystery remains
Thy mystery that shrouded the painting stretches far back to when the earliest record of the painting being owned by someone traces to England’s King Charles I. The painting, which was believed to have been created around 1500, was one of the two similar paintings in the inventory of the late king’s collection following his execution in 1649. According to Kemp, the painting then disappeared from historical records in the late 18th century.
An overly and unnecessarily conserved painting surfaced in an auction in the collection of a 19-century British industrialist. It had been so heavily painted over that “it looked like a drug-crazed hippie,” Professor Kemp said, and it was attributed at the time to one of Leonardo’s followers.
Nonetheless, the claim that the painting is a Leonardo originated only in 2005 after art collectors noticed it in New Orleans. After a thorough examination, restoration experts and art academics have eventually concluded that the painting was indeed created by the hands of the master, himself, Leonardo Da Vinci.
With so much enigma, the question that baffles the current art world still rename: Where in the world is Salvator Mundi?