A Saudi Arabian royal with links to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been revealed as the mystery buyer of a Leonardo da Vinci painting, the most expensive artwork in history.
Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud paid $450m for Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi at an auction in New York last month.
According to the New York Times, which has seen documents relating to the purchase, Prince Bader was not present at the auction but sent someone to bid on his behalf.
It is unclear how Prince Bader made his money, with no publicly known source of wealth, however he put down a $100m deposit to qualify for the Christie’s auction.
The little-known prince has no history in the art market and the purchase comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is cracking down on the excesses of its extended royal family and arrested more than 200 on charges of corruption.
The bank accounts of 376 people were also frozen, all of whom are detained or linked to corruption allegations.
The kingdom had been squeezed by years of low oil prices, and Prince Mohammed was seeking to recover hundreds of billions of dollars in alleged illicit gains.
Many of the prince detained in November’s arrests have since paid for their release from the Ritz Carlton in the capital Riyadh, where they were being held.
Prince Mohammed’s own extravagance had raised questions, however, including the purchase two years ago of a $500m 440-foot yacht.
Prince Bader is one of more than 5,000 princes in the kingdom and while he is from a lesser branch of the royal family he is understood to have been a contemporary of Prince Mohammed.
They attended King Saud University in Riyadh around the same time.
It looks likely the painting will be housed first at the newly opened branch of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
A Twitter account for the museum tweeted on Wednesday that the painting “is coming to Louvre Abu Dhabi.” The UAE is an ally of the Saudi royal family.
The 500-year-old painting is one of fewer than 20 works by the Renaissance master known to exist and the only one in private hands.
The bid far surpassed the previous record for a sale at auction: the $179.4 million paid for Picasso’s “Women of Algiers” at Christie’s in 2015.
“We are delighted that the work will again be on public view,” a Christie’s spokesperson said of the record-setting painting.
Alex Rotter, the auction house’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art in the Americas, represented the anonymous buyer of the Da Vinci and placed the winning bid after a spellbinding 19-minute contest that saw offers at $200 million, $300 million and $350 million fall short. The result obliterated previous world records for an art sale of any kind, including the auction high of $179.4 million for a Pablo Picasso painting sold in 2015.
At Christie’s Da Vinci auction, the salesroom was full of millionaires and billionaires, including Point72 Asset Management’s Steve Cohen, Blackstone Group LP’s Tom Hill, who collects Old Master works, and philanthropist Eli Broad.