Reports surfaced Thursday indicating that a little-known Saudi Arabian prince purchased the most expensive painting sold at an auction, but was he just a proxy?
The most expensive painting ever sold at an auction landed in the hands of Saudi Arabian royalty.
The 500-year-old Leonardo da Vinci painting of Christ sold in New York for a whopping $450 million and is on its way to a museum in the United Arab Emirates, ABC News reports.
The painting is called “Salvator Mundi” which is Latin for “savior of the world.” It was sold by Christie’s auction house to an anonymous bidder in early November. However, new reports may have revealed who that bidder was.
Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud technically shelled out the big bucks for the artwork, as reported by The New York Times. However, it is now believed that he only acted as a proxy for the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The news initially made a splash on Twitter with many questioning how Prince Bader could afford such an expensive purchase with his lower-ranking position in the royal family. Alas, at least one user, journalist Yashar Ali, speculated that he was acting on behalf of someone else.
According to The Guardian, United States intelligence identified the crown prince as the real buyer, although it has not been affirmed by Bin Salman or Prince Bader.
Prince Bader issued a statement claiming that The New York Times report naming him as the buyer included several inaccuracies, but he didn't confirm nor deny if he bought the painting or whether Bin Salman was involved.
The painting will be featured at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened last month, according to Al Jazeera. Alas, concern looms that the move to purchase a painting of Jesus Christ could be considered anti-Islam by conservative clerics in the Muslim-majority country.
If Bin Salman is, indeed, the real buyer, this decision would also face much scrutiny amid Saudi Arabia's ongoing anti-corruption drive. Cashing out $450 million on artwork while your country is in political and economic limbo would embolden critics of the alleged corruption crackdown that put many princes, government officials, and other Saudi elites in custody.
With the painting heading to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, there is some speculation that Bin Salman may have purchased it in a bid to please the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Zayed, who is his mentor.
The big mystery that has lingered for more than a month is swiftly being unraveled and may prove to be a moment of embarrassment for the crown prince rather than a victorious power play.