Da Vinci that once fetched £45, then recently $450 million, is headed to new Louvre Abu Dhabi

AFP-JIJI

“Salvator Mundi,” a painting of Christ by Leonardo Da Vinci recently sold for a record $450 million, is heading to the Louvre Abu Dhabi in a coup for the bold new museum, it announced Wednesday.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, the first museum to bear the Louvre name outside France, has been billed as “the first universal museum in the Arab world” in a sign of the oil-rich emirate’s global ambitions.

“Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi is coming to #LouvreAbuDhabi,” the museum said on Twitter in Arabic, English and French, displaying an image of the 500-year-old work.

The announcement only partially resolves the mystery over the painting’s sale last month in New York for $450.3 million, with auction house Christie’s steadfastly declining to identify the buyer.

“Congratulations,” Christie’s said in a tweeted reply to the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

But the auction house said no more, with a Christie’s representative reached by AFP declining to offer more details on the identity of the record bidder.

The French weekly le Journal du Dimanche reported that two investment firms were behind the purchase as part of a financial arrangement involving several museums.

The newspaper said that the work will be lent or resold to museums, largely in the Middle East and Asia.

The sale more than doubled the previous record of $179.4 million paid for Pablo Picasso’s “The Women of Algiers (Version O)” in 2015, also in New York.

e Louvre Abu Dhabi opened on Nov. 8 in the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron, who described the new museum as a “bridge between civilizations.”

It is the first of three museums slated to open on the emirate’s Saadiyat Island, with plans also in place for an edition of New York’s Guggenheim.

The island will also feature the Zayed National Museum, which had signed a loan deal with the British Museum — although the arrangement has come increasingly into question due to construction delays.

Featuring a vast silver-toned dome, the Louvre Abu Dhabi was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, drawing inspiration from Arab design and evoking both an open desert and the sea.

The museum opened with some 600 pieces including items from early Mesopotamia. Under a 30-year agreement, France provides expertise, lends works of art and organizes exhibitions in return for €1 billion ($1.16 billion).

The first works on loan from the Louvre in Paris include another painting by Da Vinci — “La Belle Ferronniere,” one of his portraits of women.

“Salvator Mundi,” which means “Savior of the World,” went on public display in 2011 in a dramatic unveiling at The National Gallery in London, where the work was declared to be the first newly discovered Da Vinci painting in a century.

It is one of fewer than 20 paintings generally accepted as being from the Renaissance master’s own hand, according to Christie’s.

It had sold for a mere £45 in 1958, when the painting was thought to have been a copy, and was lost until it resurfaced at a regional auction in 2005.

Its latest sale was initiated by Russian tycoon Dmitry Rybolovlev, the boss of soccer club AS Monaco.

He had bought the painting in 2013 for $127.5 million although he later accused a Swiss art dealer of overcharging him.