Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece “Salvator Mundi”, whose whereabouts has been a mystery since it sold in 2017 for a record $450 million (£350m), is reportedly adorning the walls of the superyacht of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The 500-year-old painting, whose authenticity has been a source of controversy, “was whisked away in the middle of the night on MBS’s plane and relocated to his yacht, the Serene”, according to Artnet.com, citing two “principals involved in the transaction” that it didn’t identify.
Another Saudi prince was said to have bought the artwork on Crown Prince Mohammed’s behalf at a 2017 Christie’s auction, the New York Times reported previously. Christie’s has declined to confirm that report.
The yacht is currently located near the Egyptian city of Port Said in the Mediterranean, according to Marine Traffic. On May 26, it was in the Red Sea off Sharm el-Sheikh, an Egyptian resort town on the Sinai Peninsula, according to Bloomberg ship tracking data.
‘‘Salvator Mundi” will remain aboard the 134-metre Serene until the Saudis create a planned cultural hub in the Kingdom’s Al-Ula region, Artnet said.
The project was in an “exploratory phase,” a spokesman for the commission overseeing the plan said in December.
The Louvre in Paris museum had asked to borrow the work for an October exhibition. But that may not go ahead after experts at the Louvre attributed the work to Da Vinci’s workshop, rather than to the artist alone.
Displaying it as a “workshop” painting would render it all but worthless and leave its Saudi owners humiliated, according to an art historian who has charted the painting’s extraordinary story.
Ben Lewis, author of The Last Leonardo, said last month: “It is very unlikely it will be shown because the owner of this picture cannot possibly lend it to the Louvre Paris and see it exhibited as ‘Leonardo workshop’ – its value will go down to somewhere north of $1.5m.
“If a picture cannot show its face, that is really damning for the art world. It is almost like it has become the Saudi’s latest political prisoner.”
The Louvre Abu Dhabi had announced plans to display the Salvator Mundi last September.
“Having spent so long undiscovered, this masterpiece is now our gift to the world,” Mohamed Khalifa al-Mubarak, the chairman of Abu Dhabi’s department of culture and tourism, said last year. “We look forward to welcoming people from near and far to witness its beauty.”
But with two weeks to go, the museum cancelled the unveiling without giving a reason. Mr Lewis said he believed the owners were put off by experts who have expressed doubt about the painting’s authenticity.
While the high seas may not be the best place for a fragile Old Master painting, it’s not uncommon for the super-wealthy to decorate their yachts with trophy art.
Joe Lewis, the British entrepreneur who owns a majority stake in Tottenham football club, hung Francis Bacon’s “Triptych 1974 – 1977,” worth an estimated $70 million, on the lower deck of his yacht, the Aviva. The artwork was on display in Tate Britain’s Bacon and Freud exhibition last summer.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the owner of Manchester City and deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, reportedly has hundreds of pieces aboard his £350m superyacht, Topaz.