The Leonardo da Vinci painting sold at an outrageous price of 450.3 million dollars come as something preposterous in this time and age. For no art piece had ever been reported, sold or bought at such huge price, no matter its authenticity.

Surprisingly a little know Saudi Prince, a distant cousin of the ruling clan, with no record of being an art collector, or publicly known owner of great wealth. Prince Bader Bin Abdullah Bin Mohammad Bin Farhan Al Saud is the mystery buyer of ‘Salvator Mundi’ at the auction held by Christies last month. The New York Times reviewed the documents to establish this fact, which had everyone astounded in the art world.

Prince Bader bought this controversial and decidedly un-Islamic portrait of Christ at a time when most members of the Saudi elite, including members of the House of Saud are detained in sweeping crackdown against corruption and self-enrichment. However, as Prince Bader is reported to be a friend and associate of Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), it remains to be seen as how this episode will pan out with the Sauds, Arabs at large and Muslims as a whole.

MBS extravagance had previously raised some concern, when on an impulse he purchased a 440-foot yacht in South of France of a Russian Vodka empire for half a billion dollars. Maybe both the princes were competing out who can be more of a spend thrift and throw this kind of cash on art and luxury. The Saudi crown prince is a close ally of his counterpart in Abu-Dhabi. From where, the newly opened branch of the Lourve in Abu Dhabi, posted on Twitter that the painting “is coming to Lourve Abu Dhabi”.

Documents provided from inside Saudi Arabia revealed that representatives for the buyer, Prince Bader did not present him as the bidder until the day before the sale. Christies was in quite a tizzy to establish his identity and financial means. Even after he had provided a $100 million deposit to qualify for the auction, the Christies lawyers conducting the due diligence pressed him with two pointed questions:

Where did he get the money? And what was his relationship with the Saudi ruler. The only answer they got was real estate and that he was amongst the 5000 Al Saud Princes. Just weeks before crown Prince MBS had ordered crackdown on more than 200 of the richest Saudi Princes and other. For the Kingdom has been suffering from low oil prices and bad investments abroad, was seeking to recover hundreds of billions of unlawful stolen wealth accumulated by the elite group.

The purchase of his painting, which has been questioned whether is a true Leonardo and really is not something like ‘Mona Lisa’, for is a portrait of Jesus Christ, which obviously is not like other portraits as Leonardo (1452-1519) could not have seen our Prophet Jesus (Hazrat Essa A.S) and have a picture of him. Leonardo da Vinci considered one of the greatest intellects in the history of mankind, saw mystery everywhere and delved deep to understand it. Drew up plans for flying machines 400 years before the first airplane.

His portraits of faces were more skillful than had ever been seen before or since, embodying a reality that captured every essence of his subjects. Many books have been written on the magnificence of just one of his painting ‘The Last Supper’. As a great mathematician Leonardo encouraged us to have balance in our lives, regardless of our pursuits. This purchase would have shocked him and or lose his balance. For the price paid by the young Prince Bader is an unprecedent sum for a painting of Christ.

It risks offending the religious sensibilities of Muslims the world over. For we as Muslims believe in Hazrat Essa A.S (Jesus) as a Prophet who is mentioned in The Holy Qur’an, wherein a whole chapter is in the name of His Mother Maryam. Most Muslims, especially clerics of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere consider the artistic depiction of any of the prophets to be a form of sacrilege.

Prince Bader comes from a lesser branch of the royal family. But Prince Bader attended King Saud University in Riyadh at the same time as MBS who after becoming crown Prince elevated Bader to important positions. He was recently appointed chairman of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, which publishes the Pan-Arab newspaper Al-Sharq Al Awsat and other publications.

In July 2017, King Salman named Prince Bader governor of a newly formed commission to develop the province of Alola, which contains an archaeological site that the crown Prince hopes to turn into a tourist destination. It is MBS pet project and a big part of his plans for the Kingdom known as Saudi vision 2030. Prince Bader sat on the board of an energy company that did business as Energy Holding International, his short biography describes him as “One of Saudi Arabia’s youngest entrepreneurs”.

One thing is for sure, nobody as young as Prince Bader in the history of entrepreneurship has made such a splash, especially in the world of Art. Where we saw Princess Mayassa Al Thani of Qatar emerge as one of the biggest art collector, where Sir Agha Khan created the first Islamic Art Museum in Canada after the success of the Qatar, Islamic Art Museum. However, what Prince Bader has done for the world of Arts, is something which will be discussed and tabled about for a long time. Hopefully, it shall keep him charged and invest in Islamic Art treasures, which over the last few decades have risen in value manifold.

By investing this massive amount in a Leonardo, hopefully our very own great unknown artists and craftsmen will start getting attention, for the works done in our part of the woods in the last five centuries is beyond any master piece ever made.

Categories:   Culture & Tradition