Fake News: Saudi Royal Family’s $450 Million da Vinci Painting May Not Be by da Vinci

by Christopher Blay April 19, 2021

Circa 1490-1519, oil on panel, 45.4 cm × 65.6 cm (25.8 in × 17.9 in), private collection. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

A painting bought in a Louisiana auction for less than $10,000 in 2005, and later auctioned at Christie’s for $450 million, may be a fake Leonardo da Vinci. The painting, dubbed Salvator Mundi, was revealed to be purchased by Mohammed Bin Salman, A.K.A. MBS. A new PBS documentary titled The Savior for Sale alleges both the whereabouts of the painting (on MBS’s yacht), and information about previous sales (sold for $1,175 by a New York art dealer in 2005, before the Louisiana purchase, and again in 2013 to a Russian buyer for $127.5 million).

According to Celebrity Net Worth, “art analysts allege that although the painting was produced in one of da Vinci’s workshops, the legendary genius might have, at most, only ‘contributed’ to the painting.” The website also details  allegations by the documentary that involved some members of the French government lobbying on behalf of MBS to have the painting exhibited at the Louvre, further alleging that MBS wanted the painting to be exhibited side-by-side with the Mona Lisa. “In the end, President Macron denied Salman’s request to give the painting an official stamp of approval from his government,” Celebrity Net Worth reports.

In a Texas twist to the story: In 2012, D Magazine reported that the very painting was almost purchased at auction by the Dallas Museum of Art during the tenure of former DMA Director Maxwell Anderson. “Then tens of millions of dollars later, and we made a very reasonable offer. But there are certain things you can’t control,” Anderson is quoted in the article.

No hard news about whether the painting has ever been fully authenticated, although in this PBS documentary, around the 11:50 minute mark, Martin Kemp, Professor Emeritus of Art History at the University of Oxford, seems to believe it is.

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