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Missing Da Vinci artwork re-emerges in Saudi Arabia with plans for its own museum Open in fullscreen

The New Arab Staff

Missing Da Vinci artwork re-emerges in Saudi Arabia with plans for its own museum

Salvator Mundi was sold in 2017 to a mystery buyer linked to MBS [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 June, 2020

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'What about Islamic art?' critics ask as Saudi plans to open a museum to unveil the world's most expensive painting, Salvator Mundi, depicting Jesus Christ.

Saudi Arabia is planning to showcase Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" painting of Jesus, a report said, putting an end to questions raised over its fate, after the piece was purchased for $450 million and remained out of sight.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the Saudi ministry of culture will store the painting until a new museum is built to unveil the it to the public – the most expensive artwork in the world.

Salvator Mundi was sold in a 2017 auction to a mystery buyer, who was later reveiled to be a Saudi prince linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

The artwork was later set to become the centrepiece of the newly-opened Louvre Abu Dhabi, but the exhibition was postponed and the painting was never shown to the public. 

The mysterious events sparked speculations, while the disappearance of the painting lead some to believe the prince had "lost" it.

The unveiling of the Salvator Mundi is reportedly part of plans to establish Saudi Arabia as a major international art destination. 

Hamed bin Mohammed Fayez, deputy culture minister, told WSJ his government intends to build major art institutions to attract tourists and add "as much as $27 billion to the country's economy".

Read also: Missing Da Vinci's $450 million masterpiece is on MbS' private yacht, art website says

The painting, which is a depiction of Christ, has sparked internal debate in the kingdom, which is hesitant to centre its focus on Christian rather than Islamic art.

According to the report, Saudi cultural leaders have raised concerns over Salvator Mundi overshadowing Saudi culture and Islamic art.

"It's an issue of perception. What does it say about Saudi identity if we put that painting on a poster?" Stefano Carboni, chief executive of the ministry's new Museums Commission told the WSJ.

Carboni has proposed to display the piece in a seperate museum dedicated to western art, strategically placed close to an Islamic art museum.

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