When the famous Salvator Mundi painting sold for $US450 million ($A646 million) in 2017, it instantly became the most expensive painting of all time.
It was snapped up by a Saudi prince and fetched such a staggering sum it made headlines around the world — before the masterpiece vanished without a trace.
Now it has allegedly been found — on a luxury yacht in the middle of the ocean.
The 500-year-old painting was purchased at the high-profile 2017 auction, held by famed British auction house Christie’s, under mysterious circumstances.
However, the New York Times later revealed it was bought by Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud — although it is widely believed he purchased it on Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s behalf.
Several months after the painting was purchased, Prince Bader became the minister of culture — and Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, also known as MBS, then gifted it to his friend Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi.
The painting was supposed to be placed on display at the Louvre in Abu Dhabi and also loaned to the original Louvre in Paris.
In June 2018, the chairman of Abu Dhabi’s department of culture and tourism, Mohamed Khalifa al-Mubarak, spoke publicly about the painting.
“Having spent so long undiscovered, this masterpiece is now our gift to the world,” he said, according to the Guardian.
“We look forward to welcoming people from near and far to witness its beauty.”
But just a week before it was due to be unveiled in Abu Dhabi last September, the opening was postponed without an explanation.
According to art market website artnet.com, the painting now hangs on board Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s luxury yacht, the Serene, after being “whisked away in the middle of the night on MBS’s plane”.
Reporter Kenny Schachter claimed he was given the painting’s whereabouts by “two principals involved in the transaction” and was privy to “intel from a source with deep Middle Eastern ties”.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg ship tracking data revealed as recently as May 26, the vessel was in the Red Sea near the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
While the painting smashed world records when it sold, it has also been at the centre of controversy regarding its authenticity.
Some experts believe it was painted by Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci — although others are convinced he only painted part of it, with the rest completed by other artists and assistants in the master’s studio workshop.
The renowned piece depicts Jesus in Renaissance garb, and the title translates from Latin to “Saviour of the World”.
The piece was originally discovered in pieces but was painstakingly restored before fetching that record $646 million price tag.
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Originally published as Mystery find on Saudi prince’s yacht