New-York based Christie’s auction house said on Friday Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism was acquiring Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Christ, “Salvator Mundi,” a painting that sold for $450.3 million.
The latest twist in a saga over the painting came after a report in the Wall Street Journal which said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS, was identified as the buyer of the painting in US intelligence reports, according to people with direct knowledge of the information.
A Saudi official denied MbS had purchased the artwork.
The painting, sold last month, become the most expensive painting ever sold. At the auction, the painting was purchased by an unidentified buyer bidding via telephone after a protracted contest of nearly 20 minutes at the auction house.
A document seen by Reuters showed that a Saudi prince was authorized to purchase the painting on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism.
The document, dated November 12, is addressed to Prince Badr bin Abdullah al Saud and thanks him for “agreeing to bid as undisclosed agent for and on behalf of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi for the artwork” at Christie’s auction on Nov. 15.
The letter authorizes the Prince to “bid up to a hammer price” of $500 million.
A UAE government official confirmed the painting belonged to the Abu Dhabi government and would be put on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
The painting, only recently rediscovered, was the last da Vinci left in private hands and fetched more than four times Christie’s pre-sale estimate of about $100 million.