In December of 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi made a massive splash.
The museum, meant to become a pinnacle of art and wonder for the Persian Gulf region, announced that it was set to house a modern marvel—the “Salvator Mundi,” or “Savior of the World,” by Leonardo da Vinci.
"سالفاتور مندي" للفنان ليوناردو دافنشي سوف تتخذ اللوفر أبوظبي مقراً لهاتابعونا للمستجدات⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Da Vinci's Salvator Mundi is coming to Louvre Abu Dhabi. Follow us for updates
The museum announced that the mysterious painting would arrive soon, and encouraged visitors and fans to follow along on social media for updates. Painted some time around the year 1500, the portrait—which depicts Jesus Christ in renaissance wear and holding a crystal orb—was lost until it was rediscovered in 2005, when it sold in an auction house for less than $10,000 as a believed replica.
It had been heavily overpainted to make it look like a copy, and it was in poor condition—but after it was determined that it was indeed the original, it was restored and sold at auction for a whopping $450.3 million to a private bidder with believed ties to the Saudi Arabian royal family.
It was after the sale that the Abu Dhabi museum announced it was headed for display, but two years have gone by with no word since. The scheduled unveiling, which was planned for September of 2018, was abruptly canceled—and the New York Times reported in March that even the Parisian Louvre had been unable to locate the masterpiece.
The art world has been frantically searching for the painting, hoping to discover its whereabouts for a possible unveiling in time for the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. There’s speculation that the Saudi royal family simply decided to keep the precious work of art, described by some as the “religious Mona Lisa,” but even that hasn’t been confirmed; there’s been little talk to confirm anything out of the Persian Gulf region, and no one is entirely sure what’s going on.
It’s not the first time the painting has been lost to the public, as it was initially believed to be a part of the private collection belonging to King Charles I of England prior to his execution. It was kept track of publicly until some time in the 18th century, which is when it was last lost to the world—and while there’s a desperate hope that this isn’t the case once again, it wouldn’t be an entirely unfamiliar story for the iconic work of art.
There are some rumors circulating that the disappearance has come in the wake of private revelations that the work may not be da Vinci’s after all, but there’s been no public confirmation of any such stories on record—so everything, at this point, remains purely speculation.