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The location of ‘Salvator Mundi’ remains unknown

Apr 29,2019
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People look at “Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci at Christie’s auction house in London on Oct. 24, 2017. [AFP/YONHAP]
PARIS - Later this year, the Louvre in Paris will host an exhibition of masterpieces by the Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci to mark his death 500 years ago in France. But the work that in recent months has been the intense focus of scrutiny by the media and da Vinci specialists, may not be on show.

In 2017, “Salvator Mundi” was sold at auction by Christie’s as a work by da Vinci for a record $450 million. But it has not been displayed in public since, triggering doubts about its ownership, its whereabouts and its authenticity.

The painting, a portrait of Jesus, was to go on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi in September last year. But its unveiling was postponed by the museum without any explanation.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi has kept tight-lipped about the identity of the buyer, saying only that the emirate’s Department of Culture and Tourism had “acquired” it.

And the mystery has further deepened ahead of a visit by Italian President Sergio Mattarella who will join France’s President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday on a trip to the Loire Valley to mark the anniversary of da Vinci’s death there in 1519, at the age of 67.

“The Louvre has asked the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi for the painting to be given on loan,” a Louvre spokesperson told AFP. “But we have not yet had any reply.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the buyer of the picture was Saudi prince Badr ben Abdallah, acting in the name of powerful Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. He has never confirmed or denied the report.

Saudi Arabia and the neighboring United Arab Emirates are very close allies who are both engaged militarily in the war against rebels in Yemen. Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) is also a close confidant of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed who along with Macron opened the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2017, the first foreign institution to carry the name of the great Paris museum.

The painting’s disappearance comes as MBS’s international reputation has taken a battering over the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, in which he denies any involvement.

Artprice, the leading art market information service, said clerics from Sunni Islam’s leading authority the Al Azhar university in Cairo told MBS the painting could not be displayed on religious grounds.

Meanwhile, many art experts remain unconvinced of the painting’s authenticity.

“Certain details are very telling,” said Jacques Franck, a specialist in da Vinci’s technique, pointing to the poor depiction of a finger and other elements that are “anatomically impossible”.

He said that at the time the canvas was painted, da Vinci had his workshop complete certain paintings because he himself had very little time.

Daniel Salvatore Schiffer, another da Vinci expert, also believes the painting was not done by the Italian master.

“When you analyze the details, nothing is by Leonardo, it doesn’t have his spirit.”

AFP