Ever since it sold for a record-crushing $450 million at auction in 2017, and then was whisked away, the whereabouts of the da Vinci masterpiece Salvator Mundi have been a mystery. Now it is reported to have turned up in a rather unexpected location—the Serene, a super-yacht owned by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Yes, the very same M.B.S. who earlier this year, according to the C.I.A., ordered the murder and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.)
The painting, whose authenticity has been a source of controversy, “was whisked away in the middle of the night on M.B.S.’s plane and relocated to his yacht,” according to Artnet, citing two unidentified people involved in the transaction. Another Saudi prince was said to have bought the artwork on M.B.S.’s behalf at a Christie’s auction, The New York Times reported previously.
M.B.S.’s plan for now, according to Artnet, is to keep the painting on the 440-foot, $560 million Serene until the Saudis create a cultural hub in the kingdom’s Al-Ula region.
But there appears to be one more wrinkle.
Earlier this year, the Louvre asked to borrow the work for an exhibition. When experts examined the painting, they decided it was not created by Leonardo but by artists in his workshop. Displaying it as a “workshop” painting would decimate its value and leave its Saudi owners humiliated, according to Ben Lewis, an art historian whose book The Last Leonardo charts the painting’s extraordinary story.
“It is very unlikely it will be shown, because the owner of this picture cannot possibly … see it exhibited as ’Leonardo workshop,’” Lewis said. “Its value will go down to somewhere north of $1.5 million. 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.”