The world’s most expensive painting may not be a true da Vinci.
Billed as Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th century masterpiece, the “Salvator Mundi” was reportedly sold to Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman for a record-setting $450 million in New York City in 2017, according to “The Saviour for Sale,” a French documentary that premieres next week.
But experts at the Louvre museum in Paris discovered through scientific analysis in 2019 that da Vinci only “contributed” to the painting, which depicts Jesus Christ in Renaissance garb, according to excerpts of the film published by The Times of Malta.
When French officials told Saudis about the discovery, they allegedly asked officials to hide that the artwork was not a full da Vinci, senior officials working for French President Emmanuel Macron said.
“Things turned incomprehensible,” one unnamed French official said. “The request by [the prince] was very clear: show the ‘Salvator Mundi’ next to the ‘Mona Lisa’ and present it as 100 per cent a da Vinci.”
The Saudis then offered various deals in an effort to brush the painting’s origins under the table, the documentary alleges.
“The Saudis are afraid of this debate on the authenticity,” said Chris Dercon, who heads one of France’s top museum groups and advises the Saudi government on art. “They are afraid that people will say, both at home and abroad, ‘You spent all this money for something that is not a da Vinci.’”
Macron decided to reject the prince’s request, leaving it to the Louvre to negotiate with the Saudis on how the painting should be presented.
Ultimately, the painting was never shown at the Louvre and the museum has refused to comment on the case, according to the filmmakers.
The painting was first bought in 2005 for just $1,175 by a New York art dealer and restored in the US.
British experts later authenticated the art and presented at London’s National Gallery in 2011. It was then sold to a Russian oligarch for $127.5 million two years later.
So, where is the Salvator Mundi now?
“Salvator Mundi” hasn’t been seen in public since that evening in November 2017. Its whereabouts have become the source of intense speculation after the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which had previously announced it would display the painting, last year postponed the grand unveiling without explanation.
The most common theory is that the 500-year-old artwork is sitting in storage in Switzerland — specifically in Geneva, where, according to The New York Times, more than a million works of art are kept in secretive tax-free warehouses by collectors and galleries. But last week, another theory emerged in an opinion piece by art dealer Kenny Schachter published on Artnet: that the last known privately-held Leonardo is on a luxury yacht owned by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.