Leonardo da Vinci’s most expensive painting in the world was downgraded by a museum – because he didn’t really paint it.
Salvator Mundi, nicknamed the Mona Lisa man, was sold for a record $ 450million (£ 342million) in 2017 to a Saudi prince.
It was believed to be a long-lost but fully authentic da Vinci, verified by experts around the world.
But it turns out that the portrait was only “assigned, authorized or supervised by” by the Renaissance master.
It was probably painted by one of his assistants or students, with only a few brushstrokes from da Vinci himself.
The demotion, first revealed by The Art Newspaper, will likely reduce the value of the painting.
The official buyer for 2017 was Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud – a little-known member of the Saudi royal family with no background as an art collector.
But it is widely believed that he was purchasing on behalf of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, making him the true owner of the painting.
Whoever it is, they have paid a staggering sum – more than the £ 305million the Crown Prince paid for Newcastle United.
The prestigious National Gallery in London presented the painting as a true da Vinci in 2011, but suspicions were raised by art curator and historian Vincent Delieuvin who claimed that parts of the Mundi were “of surprisingly poor quality. “.
The Prado Museum in Madrid, where the work appears, relegated it this month to its catalog listings for an exhibition titled “Leonardo and the Copy of the Mona Lisa”.
The showcase, which runs until January 23, focuses on “the nature of the copies and works made in the bottega vinciana (Leonardo’s studio) during the master’s lifetime and authorized by him”.
The catalog continues: “There were times when Leonardo struggled to paint due to his perfectionism and many other occupations, and his students took on the task for him.
The paintings are divided into two categories – “by Leonardo” and “works attributed or authorized and supervised by Leonardo” – with the Salvator Mundi now reporting to the latter.
The portrait, which depicts Christ as the Savior of the world and is sometimes referred to as the Gulf Salvator Mundi, dates from around AD 1500.
It disappeared for several centuries before being traded multiple times and eventually ending up in a New Orleans auction house in 2005.
Dealers only paid $ 1,175 (£ 876) for it, but restoration quickly revealed that it could be a real Leonardo.
It was then sold to a Russian oligarch in 2013 for a whopping $ 127million (£ 94.7million) before being sold in 2017 at Christie’s in New York to a Saudi prince, becoming the work of most expensive art ever sold at public auction.
AN INCONCEPTABLE WEALTH
His current location remains a mystery, but rumors suggest he is hidden somewhere in Saudi Arabia.
Others have claimed it takes pride of place on MBS’s £ 400million superyacht, which at 439 feet long is one of the tallest in the world.
The portrait would have given the floating palace a value of £ 700million, but, if there was, it could now be considerably less.
However, he is unlikely to make a big dent in MBS’s fortunes, with the House of Saud’s collective wealth estimated at some £ 1 trillion, nearly 16 times more than the British royal family.
Their wealth comes from the vast oil reserves discovered in Saudi Arabia more than 75 years ago during the reign of King Abdulaziz ibn Saud.
The family tends not to spend their money publicly, MBS leads a life of unimaginable luxury.
In addition to a £ 230million French chateau, he also has a 620-acre estate just an hour from Paris among his purchases.
And in 2020, it was reported that MBS was planning to build a £ 400 billion megalopolis on a massive 10,200 square mile site along the Red Sea.
Named Neom, the development will be 17 times the size of London and will run on 100% renewable energy.
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Da Vinci’s portrait of Jesus, world’s most expensive painting, sold for £ 350million to Saudi prince, “may in fact be a Fake”