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‘Most costly’ artwork due at Paris Louvre is missing

The “world’s most expensive painting”, which is due to be on show at the Paris Louvre museum this October, has mysteriously “disappeared” since its sale at auction in 2017.

The “Salvator Mundi” painting, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, has not been seen in public since its sale for US $450.3 million (€401 million) at auction house Christie’s in New York in November 2017.

After the sale, the 65cm x 45cm painting “disappeared”. Reports say that nobody appears to know its exact current location - and if they do, they are staying quiet.

The work was due to be exhibited at the Abu Dhabi Louvre in September 2018, but this was postponed after the painting “could not be found”.

It is due to appear at the Paris Louvre this October as part of the museum’s planned exhibition to mark 500 years since Leonardo Da Vinci’s death in France.

Communications from the Louvre had already warned guests that the piece would be visible by advance booking only, due to the “exceptional affluence” of expected visitors. Yet, this remains hypothetical as long as the painting remains mysteriously “lost”.

In a statement, the Paris Louvre told the Agence France-Presse that “we have asked the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi to loan us” the work, but “we have not yet had a response”.

The identity of the 2017 buyer was kept a secret, but some commentators have suggested that it could be a Saudi prince.

Jacques Franck, international specialist in the painting techniques of Leonardo Da Vinci, said: “It’s a funny story. We are no closer to shedding light on this mystery. The owner is staying very secretive. We think maybe it is a Saudi Arabian prince.”

Some experts believe that after its sale, the painting never arrived in Abu Dhabi at all, and was actually sent to a museum in Geneva, Switzerland.

Others have even doubted whether the painting is by Leonardo Da Vinci, and said that it is more likely to have been painted by one of his students. One detail, such as an “anatomically impossible” finger, appears to suggest it is more likely to be the work of a less-accomplished artist, Mr Franck said.

He explained: “I do not really believe that it was sent to Switzerland. I think it must be in the Abu Dhabi Louvre. [But] some details do not lie. I only see 5-10% of the hand of Leonardo Da Vinci [here].”

Mr Franck added that he believed that the painting was likely at the Abu Dhabi Louvre, and undergoing testing using the latest scientific technology, to try to determine whether the work is really a Da Vinci.

He said: “The Abu Dhabi Louvre is a very new and modern museum, which has many high-performing techniques and scientific equipment available.”

This could explain the owner’s decision to keep the painting’s whereabouts secret, he said, as experts are still debating the work’s origins.

Others have suggested that the work is being kept hidden as its Muslim owner may not want to be publicly associated with a painting that depicts an image of Jesus as “saviour of the world (God) - ‘Salvator Mundi’” - a message that is said to contradict some interpretations of Islam.

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