Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, who in 2017 purchased Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi at auction for a record-breaking $450 million, is reported to be building a gallery to display the contested work in his home country. Well-known British art historian Martin Kemp, speaking at the UK’s Cheltenham Literary Festival on October 11, revealed that the prince had invited him to Saudi Arabia to view the painting. “It is in Saudi Arabia and the country is constructing an art gallery, which is to be finished in 2024, I think,” Kemp said, according to The Art Newspaper. “There have been moves to get me out to look at it.”
The ca. 1500 painting, which Crown Prince Bin Salman purchased from Christie’s in New York through a proxy and which is often referred to as the “male Mona Lisa,” depicts a beatific Christ with one hand raised in blessing. The work is one of several by Leonardo picturing Jesus. Known as the “Cook version,” after Londoner Francis Cook, who bought the painting in 1900, it has in recent years come under scrutiny, with the Prado last year quietly asserting that it was likely not made by the legendary Italian Renaissance artist but instead created under his supervision.
Salvator Mundi has not been exhibited in public since its 2017 purchase; prior to its record-smashing sale, it had last sold for $1,175, to a collective of New Orleans art dealers, by an auction house which had received it on consignment from the estate of Baton Rouge businessman Basil Clovis Hendry. Kemp after the sale affirmed the painting as being by Leonardo, and the work was subsequently displayed in a survey of Leonardo’s oeuvre at London’s National Gallery in 2011. During the past five years, questions have swirled regarding the painting’s whereabouts, with various unconfirmed accounts given of sightings in a Swiss warehouse and aboard the prince’s yacht, respectively.