Revealed: The mystery buyer of the world’s most expensive painting

Nearly a month after Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” was sold for $450 million, the buyer has finally been revealed.

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism confirmed Monday it purchased the most expensive painting in the world.

The painting has been the topic of speculation since an anonymous buyer phoned in the record-breaking bid at a Christie’s auction in New York on November 15. It is one of fewer than 20 authenticated da Vinci paintings in existence.

That speculation intensified last week after the Louvre Abu Dhabi — the Paris museum’s first outpost outside France — said it would exhibit the work but declined to comment on the owner.

The New York Times reported last week that the man behind the purchase was a little-known Saudi prince named Bader bin Abdullah bin Farhan al-Saud, an associate of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia has since said the prince was acting as a middleman for the United Arab Emirates, a key ally in the region.

“His Highness Prince Badr, as a friendly supporter of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, attended its opening ceremony on November 8th and was subsequently asked by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism to act as an intermediary purchaser for the piece,” the Saudi embassy in Washington said in a statement.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is part of the emirate’s plans to diversify its economy away from oil. The government of Abu Dhabi said it had been eying the piece for a long time and felt it could not let this one get away.

“We had a strategy in mind, we worked very closely with the broker, we bid on it,” said Mohamed Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism. “We felt that in our lifetime we most likely will not see another da Vinci,” he told a conference in Abu Dhabi.

“Salvator Mundi,” which depicts Jesus Christ in Renaissance clothing, will be displayed alongside another da Vinci painting, “La Belle Ferronnière,” which is currently on loan from the Louvre in Paris.

Abu Dhabi has not yet said when “Salvator Mundi” will make its first appearance in its new home. Art experts expect it to become a huge draw.

“It is a coup for this one-month-old institution to welcome the world’s most expensive painting,” said Myrna Ayad, director of Art Dubai, an annual fair. “It’s wonderful to think that in a relatively short amount of time, the UAE has positioned itself as the region’s cultural capital.”

Countries across the region, including the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been investing heavily in the arts and culture, building new museums and hosting exhibitions. That’s encouraging a new generation of art lovers.

Sotheby’s says the number of Middle Eastern clients participating in its global sales has risen by 76% over the past five years. The venerable auction house opened its first gallery in the region in Dubai in March.

Christie’s, which has been in Dubai for more than a decade, has sold more than $215 million worth of art since then.

Built on a man-made island in the UAE capital, the Louvre is part of the city’s drive to transform itself into a cultural hub.

In a 30-year deal worth a reported €1 billion ($1.18 billion), the French Louvre assists with exhibition management, offers advice and lends artworks to its Middle Eastern franchise. The new museum currently houses a permanent collection of 600 artworks, with a further 300 on loan from Paris.