The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is thought to have splashed out $450million (£354m) on what could be a fake Leonardo da Vinci painting. In November 2017, the Salvator Mundi was sold as one of fewer than 20 known works of the Italian master. It was later revealed that the buyer was Prince Badr bin Abdullah al Saud, a minor Saudi royal thought to be acting on behalf of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Ben Lewis, an art historian who has written a book about the painting, suggested the royal suddenly upped his offer from $370million to $400million because he thought the Qatari royal family was outbidding him. It would later come to light that Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian was actually the one providing competition.
Worse was to come for the royal family. Since it was included in a major da Vinci exhibition at London's National Gallery in 2011, questions have been raised about the painting's origins. The damage left by over-painting and restoration attempts meant the painting was hard to analyse.
Rumours began to swirl about its provenance in the months before the auction, leading the two billionaire bidders to raise the price to a historical high in the race to get their hands on a genuine da Vinci. Many art historians remained unconvinced however, arguing the lack of warping around the orb in Christ's hand was uncharacteristic of an artist of da Vinci's callibre. When the Louvre Abu Dhabi cancelled plans to display the painting just two weeks before the exhibition was due to start, many took that as an admission that the painting was not the work of the master, but his pupil.
Now its owners have been dealt another blow. Curators at the Louvre in Paris have privately decided to label the painting "from the workshop" of da Vinci. The move would massively devalue the world's most expensive painting, with experts suggesting it would fetch about $1.5 million (£1.18m) if auctioned again.
Mr Lewis told a crowd at the Hay Festival, "My inside sources at the Louvre, various sources, tell me that not many Louvre curators think this is an autograph [real] Leonardo da Vinci and if they did exhibit it, they really want to exhibit it as 'workshop'."
"So it is very unlikely it will be shown because the owner of this picture cannot possibly lend it to the Louvre Paris and see it exhibited as ‘Leonardo workshop’ - its value will go down to somewhere north of $1.5m."
"If a picture cannot show it's face, that is really damning for the art world. It is almost like it has become the Saudi's latest political prisoner." The painting is said to be currently in a storage facility in Switzerland.Read More