A missing $450 million Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece is said to be sitting in the Saudi crown prince's superyacht

  • The missing $US450 million “Salvator Mundi” painting is said to be on the superyacht of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
  • Sources told Artnet on Monday that the artwork attributed by many to Leonardo da Vinci had been flown to the crown prince’s $US565 million boat, where they said it would remain for the foreseeable future.
  • Storing art onboard superyachts is a growing trend among the world’s elite.
  • “Salvator Mundi” has been at the center of controversy for years as experts dispute its ties to da Vinci.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

After the controversial “Salvator Mundi” painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci sold for a record-smashing $US450 million in November 2017 at Christie’s in New York, things went fairly quiet.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi was scheduled to display the painting last September, but the exhibition was inexplicably postponed, and the painting faded back into limbo.

On Monday, though, an Artnet opinion article cited sources who said the painting had been residing on the superyacht of its owner, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman.

Citing “two principals involved in the transaction,” Artnet’s Kenny Schachter said that “Salvator Mundi” was “whisked away in the middle of the night on MBS’s plane and relocated to his yacht, the Serene.”

The crown prince’s superyacht, Serene, is narrowly more valuable than “Salvator Mundi” – the royal bought the boat from the Russian vodka tycoon Yuri Shefler for 500 million euros after spotting it in France in 2015, The New York Times said, citing two sources.

Superyacht SereneAndrew E. Russell / FlickrThe superyacht Serene.

The boat had previously been let out to Bill Gates for the princely sum of $US5 million a week, Schachter said.

According to Schachter’s sources, the painting will remain aboard the Serene until the crown prince “finishes transforming the ancient Saudi precinct of Al-Ula into a vast cultural hub.”

Using MarineTraffic, an app that tracks vessels including superyachts, The Guardian was able to track Serene’s location to Port Said, an Egyptian city at the northern end of the Suez Canal.

Storing art on yachts is part of a growing trend among the world’s ultrarich.

Read more:
Billionaire yacht owners are desperately seeking advice to protect their priceless art from flying champagne corks and corn-flake stains

In an interview with The Observer in February, the British art historian and conservator Pandora Mather-Lees said there were superyachts with “better collections than some national museums.”

This is an issue in itself as paintings can easily become damaged on board. Mather-Lees, who acts as a consultant for yacht crews caring for high-end artwork, shared a horror story of children throwing cornflakes at a multimillion-dollar Jean-Michel Basquiat because “they thought it was scary,” then the crew making it worse by trying to wiping it off.

Similarly, a drink of choice for the wealthy – Champagne – can be a real issue, with cork damage causing expensive restorations, in one instance after a multimillion-dollar artwork was said to have been struck by the projectile.

“Salvator Mundi,” meaning “Saviour of the World” in Latin, has been shrouded in controversy since its discovery as experts have fiercely debated its provenance.

While Christie’s claimed that a 2011 exhibition of the painting in London’s National Gallery “sealed its acceptance as a fully autograph work by Leonardo da Vinci,” not all experts agree.

Last month, the painting was dropped by the Louvre in Paris for its exhibition celebrating 500 years of da Vinci because its curators did not believe it could be attributed solely to the artist.

One of the world’s leading da Vinci experts also criticised Christie’s after it said she was among scholars who had attributed the picture to the artist.

Carmen Bambach, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, told The Guardian: “That is not representative of my opinion.”

Indeed, it may not be in the crown prince’s best interest to exhibit the piece at all, according to Ben Lewis, an art historian and writer who wrote a book about “Salvator Mundi.”

“My inside sources at the Louvre, various sources, tell me that not many curators think this picture is an autograph Leonardo da Vinci,” he told the Hay literary festival, according to The Guardian.

He said it would make the most sense to exhibit the art as “workshop” but that doing so could cause the value to “go down to somewhere north of $US1.5m (£1.2m).”

“It is the painting that dare not show its face,” Lewis added.

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