Leonardo in the “new” Louvre

Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi will be housed in the famous museum’s new Middle Eastern branch.

At the end of 2017, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, a painting of Christ dressed in Renaissance clothing, sold at Christie’s in London for US$450 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting, reports CNBC. Before that, the record for any artwork had been US$300 million.

Salvator Mundi is an artistic rags-to-riches story. One of only 20 paintings attributed to Leonardo, it disappeared in the 18th century, only to reappear in 1958, when it was dismissed as a copy and sold for about US$59. After a group of art dealers bought it for less than US$10,000 in 2005, the painting was restored, authenticated and sold to a Russian businessman for US$127 million. Twelve years later, it went for US$450 million.

Leonardo’s work will be housed in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which also has a fascinating history, albeit much shorter. The result of a 30-year deal reportedly worth a billion euros, the “new” Louvre is a franchise that Abu Dhabi has acquired in its drive to become a cultural hub. The Paris Louvre will give management assistance and lend artworks to the Middle Eastern branch.

Opened only a month before announcing the new Salvator Mundi acquisition, the Louvre Abu Dhabi boasts spectacular architecture, with a dome built from 7,850 intricately woven aluminum stars intended to create a “rain of light” inside the museum. It already holds a permanent collection of 600 artworks, 300 of which are on loan from various French museums.

The Louvre franchise claims that it will be a symbol of equality, and will combine and mix artworks from different eras in new and, sometimes, startling ways. But it will also harbour a marina for private yachts.