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The world’s most expensive painting was only partly made by Leonardo da Vinci — a revelation that allegedly sparked a cover-up and an international political scandal, according to a new documentary.
The 16th century masterpiece titled “Salvator Mundi” was reportedly sold to Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman for a record-setting $450 million in New York City in 2017, according to “The Saviour for Sale,” a French documentary that premieres next week.
But experts at the Louvre museum in Paris discovered through scientific analysis in 2019 that da Vinci only “contributed” to the painting, which depicts Jesus Christ in Renaissance garb, according to excerpts of the film published by The Times of Malta.
When French officials told Saudis about the discovery, they allegedly asked officials to hide that the artwork was not a full da Vinci, senior officials working for French President Emmanuel Macron said.
“Things turned incomprehensible,” one unnamed French official said. “The request by [the prince] was very clear: show the ‘Salvator Mundi’ next to the ‘Mona Lisa’ and present it as 100 per cent a da Vinci.”
The Saudis then offered various deals in an effort to brush the painting’s origins under the table, the documentary alleges.
“The Saudis are afraid of this debate on the authenticity,” said Chris Dercon, who heads one of France’s top museum groups and advises the Saudi government on art. “They are afraid that people will say, both at home and abroad, ‘You spent all this money for something that is not a da Vinci.’”
Some members of the French government, including Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, lobbied on behalf of the Saudi prince’s request, according to the documentary.
Macron decided to reject the prince’s request, leaving it to the Louvre to negotiate with the Saudis on how the painting should be presented.
Ultimately, the painting was never shown at the Louvre and the museum has refused to comment on the case, according to the filmmakers.
The painting was first bought in 2005 for just $1,175 by a New York art dealer and restored in the US.
British experts later authenticated the art and presented at London’s National Gallery in 2011. It was then sold to a Russian oligarch for $127.5 million two years later.
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