As Leonardo da Vinci added his final touches onto Salvator Mundi, one can safely speculate that he hadn’t the slightest clue his masterpiece would end up permanently residing on the coast of the Arabian Gulf, only a couple hundred miles north of the Empty Quarter.
The painting, which has been making headlines around the world, is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s more interesting and mysterious pieces. It is believed to have been painted in the early 1500s and, until recently, was known as the last remaining Leonardo da Vinci artwork not confined within a museum due to private ownership.
Salvator Mundi, which translates from Latin to ‘Saviour of the World’, is a painting depicting Jesus Christ. In the palm of his left hand lies a sphere, believed to be the globus cruciger, which represents authority within the Christian faith. His right hand is raised, seemingly in the manner of giving a blessing.
Many have noted that the painting seems to be visibly more dated and worn out in comparison to da Vinci’s other pieces. The reason behind this is the fact that the painting was privately owned for hundreds of years and required several repaints in order to keep its qualities alive. Ironically, this took away from its original quality, but it held its value nonetheless. Due to the many restorations, the painting was theorized to be a copy for decades. A consensus on it being an original Leonardo da Vinci was not reached until the 21st century.
In mid-November 2017, the painting was sold at a New York auction hosted by Christie’s, for a record-shattering $450.3 million, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction. Prior to this auction, Leonardo da Vinci’s piece was owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who had purchased it from Switzerland’s prominent art dealer Yves Bouvier for only $127.5 million in May 2013. Quite the investment, Dmitry!
Early last month, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism announced that it had acquired the painting for the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The date of its unveiling is yet to be announced, however.
But, what does all of this mean for art and culture in the Arabian Gulf? It’s a giant leap. We’ve never seen the name of a GCC city coupled with the name of one of the most prominent figures art has ever known. The names Abu Dhabi and Leonardo da Vinci have shared the spotlight of countless international media outlets and journalistic powerhouses these past couple of months. That, combined with the increased emergence of art festivals, modern museums, and galleries across the region and the emergence of GCC youth who are more interested in art and more artistically aware than any generation prior, makes it easy to envision a future in which our region serves as a major hub for art enthusiasts and creative minds.
The future looks bright and diverse for art in the GCC. As the art scene grows and flourishes, so does the Gulf’s desire to invest. The birth of an influential lifestyle has taken place in our region, and the culture’s youthful proactivity should keep the stocks climbing for the foreseeable future. 10 to 20 years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine an art festival gaining any attention. It would have been difficult to convince sponsors for funding and to attract the youth to visit such a festival or museum. This new lifestyle of artistic engagement is trending and gathering the support of the Gulf’s youth at an unusual pace. Salvator Mundi is more than just an expensive painting. It represents our regional ambitions. It represents our newly opened doors. And most of all, it represents the future of our artistic culture. It’s a new dawn for the Arabian Gulf.
Waleed Alghamdi is a Saudi storyteller and foreign affairs analyst who also writes for Albilad Daily.