Was the UAE fooled with the $450m “Leonardo” painting?

The UAE has invested an exorbitant amount of money in it’s efforts to position itself as an Art destination. Has it been fooled in the process?

To give you a better picture of how much the UAE has invested into the art scene, just the rights to having a “Louvre” named museum in Abu Dhabi has cost them $525m (AED 2b) as a payment to France, and an additional amount of $750m (AED 2.8b) in contracts for hiring French managers. These rights are for the next 30 years only.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, as usual, needed to launch with a bang, something special, and that’s when the UAE laid it’s eyes on the ‘Salvator Mundi’ (saviour of the world), a painting depicting Jesus Christ which dates back to as far as 1500.

Although the Salvatore Mundi, attributed to Giovanni Boltraffio (worked in Leonardo Da Vinci’s studio), was sold for $60 in the 1958, which is worth not more than $600 (AED 3000) in today’s money, it was later in 2011 attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci himself.

Da Vinci having less than 20 known painting in existence, made the UAE fight for the purchase of this painting so hard that they ended up paying $450m (AED 1.7b), shattering the world record for the most expensive work of art ever sold at a auction.

Here’s where the drama begins. After the purchase, UAE local media announced that the showcase of the painting will be delayed, and no reasons or clarifications were given at all, not even a new date given.

There’s two reasons why the UAE has likely been fooled with the sale of this painting.

First, the authenticity of the painting has been critisized and challenged by many art experts and scholars. It is being said that this painting has not been drawn by Da Vinci, but by one of his students.

One of the critics, German art historian Frank Zöllner wrote in one of his recent books that the painting “exhibits a strongly developed sfumato technique that corresponds more closely to the manner of a Leonardo pupil active in the 1520s than to the style of the master himself”.

Second, the painting is seriously damaged and over painted. The state of the painting when sold at the auction is very different from it’s original paint state. In the original painting, Jesus Christ, who is depicted in the painting, has two thumbs!

Below is the photo of the Salvator Mundi, fully cleaned in 2011, in comparison to the state it was sold in at the auction.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide. However, I personally don’t think that this painting is worth the headache. Although Jesus Christ is a revered prophet in Islam, this painting neither reflects the culture of the UAE, nor does it abide by it’s religious values (depictions of prophets in art).

Furthermore, with the current economy and regional stability, these billions could have definitely gone somewhere more useful.

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