Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is leading an austerity drive at home, is the bidder who paid a record $450.3 million for a Leonardo da Vinci portrait of Jesus Christ, settling one of the art world’s biggest mysteries.
Prince Mohammed, known by his initials MBS, was identified as the buyer of the 500-year-old painting, “Salvator Mundi,” in U.S. intelligence reports, according to people with direct knowledge of the information. American officials have closely watched the activities of the 32-year-old, who is trying to portray himself as a reformer determined to root out corruption in the oil-rich kingdom.
“The image of the crown prince spending that much money to buy a painting when he’s supposed to be leading an anticorruption drive is staggering,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and leading expert on Saudi politics.
Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed, a lesser-known figure and a distant relative of the crown prince, was the nominal winner of the auction, held at Christie’s in November, a Middle East art-world figure familiar with the purchase said, “but he is a proxy for MBS.”
“It is a fact that this deal was done via a proxy,” the person said.