Record-breaking Leonardo painting goes to Louvre Abu Dhabi

Salvator Mundi Leonardo da Vinci

The new branch of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi will exhibit Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Christ, "Salvator Mundi", which at $450.3 million became the most expensive painting ever sold at a NY auction last month.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, which is affiliated with the Paris original, opened in November, costing more than $1.3 billion to construct.

Christie's auction house sold it to an anonymous buyer last month. It is one of fewer than 20 da Vinci paintings known to exist.

Yet the identity of the successful telephone bidder has yet to be revealed, sparking intense speculation about the painting's new owner.

According to The New York Times, the painting was bought by Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, who is said to be a close friend of Saudi Arabia's all-powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

A wealthy Saudi prince was identified last night as the mysterious buyer of the world's most expensive painting.

A spokeswoman for Christie's offered her congratulations to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, telling CNN that she was "delighted that the piece is going to be on view in public". It disappeared once again for almost 50 years, emerging in 2005 when it was purchased from an American estate at a small regional auction house. Built on a man-made island in the Emirati capital, the museum is part of the city's drive to transform itself into a cultural hub.

Surrounded by water on three sides, the museum houses 600 artworks it has acquired alongside 300 works on loan from 13 leading French institutions in its 23 permanent galleries. Salvator Mundi is next recorded in a 1763 sale by Charles Herbert Sheffield, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham, who put it into auction following the sale of what is now Buckingham Palace to the king. Even before becoming the world's most expensive painting, it drew huge crowds during pre-auction viewings in London, Hong Kong and San Francisco.

The 66-centimeter-tall painting dates to around 1500. Originally commissioned by Louis XII of France, the artwork seemingly disappeared in the late 18th century. In the dispersal of the Cook Collection, it was ultimately consigned to a sale at Sotheby's in 1958 where it sold for £45. Despite selling the "Salvator Mundi" painting for a world record price, Rybolovlev has not withdrawn his lawsuit against Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier.

In 2013, Salvator Mundi was bought by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for $127.5 million.

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