Leonardo da Vinci, “Salvator Mundi” (ca 1500), oil on panel, 25 7/8 x 18 in (image courtesy Christie’s)

Leonardo da Vinci, “Salvator Mundi” (ca 1500), oil on panel, 25 7/8 x 18 in (image courtesy Christie’s)

The mystery buyer who dropped $450.3 million in the biggest art sale ever has been identified: Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” was acquired by the Saudi Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, according to David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times.

Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud (image via Saudi Research and Marketing Group)

Prince Bader, a friend of Saudi Arabia’s young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is not known as a major art collector, but has extensive dealings in the real estate, telecommunications, and recycling industries in Saudi Arabia, according to his profile on the website of the company Energy Holdings International, on whose board of directors he once served. He currently serves as chairman of the Riyadh-based Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG), which publishes 15 magazines and newspapers, including the Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat. In September, he helped broker a deal between SRMG and Bloomberg to form the joint, Arabic-language media platform Bloomberg Al-Arabiya.

Unlike much of the Saudi elite, which has been scooped up or intimidated into silence by Prince Mohammed’s ongoing purge, Prince Bader appears to be in good standing with the heir apparent to King Salman’s throne. As the Times points out, in July the king appointed Prince Bader as governor of a new commission led by Prince Mohammed and charged with developing the Al Ola region into a tourist destination. It is home to the first place in Saudi Arabia designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Al-Hijr archaeological site.

According to documents reviewed by the New York Times, Prince Bader is paying Christie’s the $450.3 million (including a buyer’s premium) in six monthly installments of roughly $58.4 million each.

The fact that the buyer of “Salvator Mundi” is Saudi royalty helps to explains why the blockbuster painting is going to resurface at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is a staunch and outspoken supporter of his Saudi counterpart.

Update, 12/8/2017: The Louvre Abu Dhabi announced today that “Salvator Mundi” was acquired by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi for the museum’s collection. Previously, a Wall Street Journal report suggested that the actual buyer was the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...