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Salvator Mundi: Saudi-owned $450m painting is not a Da Vinci, museum says

Saudi prince bought the painting for $450m in 2017 but its authenticity has been downgraded by the Prado in Madrid
A journalist takes photos of the Salvator Mundi, after it was unveiled at Christie's in New York on 10 October 2017 (AFP/File photo)

The world’s most expensive painting, owned by Saudi Arabia, is not the work of Leonardo Da Vinci, according to a research project at Madrid's renowned Prado museum.

The Salvator Mundi was purchased in New York in November 2017 for $450m by a little-known Saudi prince, who was reportedly acting as a proxy to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

At the time, it was sold by Christie’s auction house as a fully authenticated work by the Italian renaissance polymath. 

However, Spain's Prado museum has recently downgraded the work, in a decision that has been described as the most important critical intervention since the sale four years ago. 

The decision, first reported by The Art Newspaper last week, was made as part of the Prado’s Leonardo and the Copy of the Mona Lisa exhibition, which is running until January 2022. 

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The exhibition seeks to analyse da Vinci’s closest circle and the teaching methods employed in Italian studios in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. It is being run in collaboration with the Louvre, the Molecular Archaeology Laboratory at the Sorbonne and London's National Gallery, among other institutions. 

In the exhibition’s catalogue index, paintings are listed as either “by Leonardo” or “attributed works, workshop or authorised and supervised by Leonardo”. The Saudi-owned Salvator Mundi is included in the latter category. 

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Ana González Mozo, the curator of the project, wrote in the catalogue that the original Mundi was a lost work, and that the Saudi-owned version was not a prototype of it. Instead, she suggests that another version of the painting was in fact closer to da Vinci’s original. 

Elsewhere in the catalogue, Vincent Delieuvin, curator of the Louvre’s Da Vinci exhibition in 2019, said the $450m work had “details of surprisingly poor quality”. 

Earlier this year, a new documentary alleged that the Louvre did not exhibit the Salvator Mundi painting because the French government would not bow to pressure from Riyadh to present the contentious artwork as “100 percent Leonardo da Vinci”. 

A senior French official claimed that the Saudi crown prince would not accept any doubts about the painting's authenticity, and wanted it exhibited next to the Mona Lisa with no other explanation. 

The whereabouts of the work has been shrouded in secrecy since it was purchased four years ago. 

In April, a report in the Wall Street Journal alleged that the world’s most expensive painting had been endangered after having been kept on Mohammed bin Salman’s $600m superyacht. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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