A year ago this month, Christie’s Auctions sold Salvator Mundi, one of about twenty known paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, for over $450 million, shattering all previous auction records and becoming the most expensive painting to ever be sold. The identity of the mysterious over-the-phone buyer remained anonymous for several days, until it was announced that a Saudi prince, Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, had purchased the work with the aim of displaying it in the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. In September, however, the month that the Salvator Mundi was intended to be debuted, an official statement was released announcing a display postponement and that “further details will be announced soon.”
Although it has been over a year since the historic auction sale, Salvator Mundi has yet to be displayed, and scrutiny from museum professionals and art historians about its whereabouts has intensified. This week, it was announced that the painting may even be “lost,” since no one – aside from the Arab hierarchy – has seen it since the night of the auction.
This is not the first controversy associated with Salvator Mundi. In the media hype leading up the auction, many art historians and conservators were doubting its authenticity and provenance. Could this be the reason the painting has yet to be displayed? Perhaps the Louvre Abu Dhabi wants to ensure of its proper identification before it is shown to the world.
When, and if, Salvator Mundi is ever shown, I have to wonder where it will be displayed in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, especially considering it is a prominent portrait of Christ in a country that largely practices Islam. Will the painting be given a whole wall to itself, similar to the representation technique of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris? Or will it be placed in dialogue with other religious works, such as in “Gallery Four: Universal Religions,” where Qur’ans, Bibles, and Hindu sculptures would surround it?” The world will have to stay tuned to find out.