Sunday, June 20

Is the “most expensive painting in the world” a real or a fake Vinci?

The “most expensive painting in the world”, the Salvator Mundi, acquired for 450 million dollars on behalf of the Saudi prince Mohammed ben Salman, would probably be of the workshop of Leonardo da Vinci and not of the master, according to a documentary soon to be broadcast in France.

And Paris would have declined the conditions demanded by Riyadh to exhibit it in the exhibition Léonard in 2019 at the Louvre, reveals this film.

Antoine Vitkine, director of the documentary which will be broadcast on France 5 on April 13, investigated this painting bought in 2005 in poor condition for $ 1,175 by a New York art dealer and restored in the United States. It will be authenticated as a real Leonardo da Vinci by several British experts and sold to a Russian oligarch who will then decide to resell it.

It will finally go on sale in November 2017 in the middle of a contemporary art auction by being presented as fully painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the catalog.

If the Saudi power has never confirmed that the prince is the owner of the “last Vinci”, corroborating information indicates that he acquired it while hiding behind a series of intermediaries.

The secret would also lie in the theme of Christ. The iconography of the prophets in Islam is frowned upon.

The crown prince, who wants to embody a certain modernity and cultural openness within the Saudi royal family, has the ambition to build museums, especially on the ancient site of Al-Ula. According to the documentary, being able to have a Leonardo da Vinci could be in the eyes of “MBS” a starting point for a prestigious collection that the kingdom does not yet have.

As the experts began to doubt – might the work not be partly by the hand of Leonardo’s assistants? -, in April 2018 “MBS” was received by Emmanuel Macron. According to an internal source of the administration quoted in the documentary, the Salvator Mundi was on the menu for discussions.

Louvre expertise

The Saudis ask France to assess the picture. However, the Louvre houses the C2RMF, a laboratory for the analysis of works of art. He would have stayed there for three months.

The expertise would demonstrate, again according to this source, that “Leonardo would only have contributed to the picture”. The Louvre reportedly informed the Saudis.

Prince ben Salman wanted to lend the painting to the Louvre for the major exhibition devoted to Leonardo da Vinci at the end of 2019. “His request was very clear: to exhibit the Salvator Mundi alongside the Mona Lisa and present it as a 100% Vinci. Exposing him to these Saudi conditions would amount to laundering a work at 450 million dollars, ”argues the same source to his superiors.

According to the documentary, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Culture, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Franck Riester, would have been “sensitive to all the projects that the Saudi dangled”, in terms of cultural and tourist openness of their country.

“At the end of September, Macron decides: it is decided not to follow up on MBS’s request. At the last moment, Ben Salman would have refused to lend him on terms other than his own.

“Antoine Vitkine had requested the Louvre, but we did not wish to answer his questions, the painting not having been loaned during the Leonardo da Vinci retrospective,” the Museum said on Wednesday, interviewed by AFP.

The documentary is a well-documented charge against an art market where works are sought after as speculative products and where intermediaries receive exorbitant commissions.

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