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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Salvator Mundi: an extraordinary work finds its way to the Middle East

Even the story of this Leonardo da Vinci work is incredible. Soon the UAE will be able to see the painting for ourselves

Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi is heading to Abu Dhabi. Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP
Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi is heading to Abu Dhabi. Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP

To say the Salvator Mundi is well travelled is to knowingly understate the extraordinary journey that this painting by Leonardo da Vinci has taken. What we now know for sure is that the painting’s next destination is Abu Dhabi. The painting was sold for $450 million at auction in New York last month and, as The National reported, it will soon be displayed at Louvre Abu Dhabi. Its journey to the Middle East was taken via London, Louisiana, San Francisco and Hong Kong, among others.

Painted around 1500, Salvator Mundi has been described by its auctioneer, Christie’s, as “the greatest artistic rediscovery of the 21st century” before it went under the hammer in the US. In its 500-year lifespan it was part of the royal collection of King Charles I, disappeared from view entirely for around a third of its life and was sold for only a few dollars almost 60 years ago. When it re-emerged in 2005, it took years of restoration for experts and scholars to agree that Salvator Mundi was one of the artist’s works rather than being a facsimile produced by one of his followers.

Abu Dhabi awaits its arrival as one might greet an astronaut who has just returned from the Moon, such is the rarity of the men who manned the Apollo missions and, indeed, the scarcity of paintings by da Vinci. When Louvre Abu Dhabi opened a month ago, the museum not only delivered a breathtaking piece of architecture onto the city’s landscape, it also opened up our world to the possibilities of a universal museum. Those possibilities have already transformed into reality.

This “temple of beauty”, as its acclaimed architect Jean Nouvel describes his building, will host what art critics describe as a humbling and moving artwork. Any visitor who has spent time under the building’s intricate dome will have already been wowed by its serene beauty and entertained by the museum's interesting collection. The arrival of Salvator Mundi is likely to reduce those exclamations to stunned and appreciative silence.