Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (Christ the Saviour of the World) sold in auction in America in December 2017 for $450.3-m – and Catholics are now reportedly dismayed because it was bought by a Muslim.
The National Catholic Register reports that the half portrait of “an astonishingly realistic Jesus Christ gazing straight at the viewer” was painted in about 1500, and that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman financed the purchase.
The NCR’s Victor Gaetan writes:
In a dubious turn, the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC now denies the crown prince’s direct involvement, claiming his cousin purchased it for the United Arab Emirates.
Either way, Christian devotional paintings such as Salvator Mundi are forbidden by sharia (Islamic law) and illegal in Saudi Arabia. The prospect of the Saudi elite controlling this treasure should bring dismay to those who comprehend what truly makes the work priceless.
Gaetan adds that the painting took over six years to restore. The restoration included the removal of “an awkward beard and facial hair”, and that:
Renaissance artists like Leonardo, virtually all Catholic, painted Christ to emphasize his humanity underscoring their conviction that God lives in us – that creativity, and the pursuit of knowledge, is evidence of the divine in humanity.
Adopted an empirical approach to every thought, opinion, and action and accepted no truth unless verified or verifiable, whether related to natural phenomena, human behavior, or social activities.
Leonardo himself wrote:
All that aside, Gaetan writes:
Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory.
If such a religious painting of Christ was found today in Saudi Arabia, it could be confiscated and destroyed as illegal, along with Bibles and rosary beads.
Those who try to convert to Christianity from Islam risk public execution.
Catholic guest workers in Saudi Arabia – and there are millions – are denied places of worship since churches are forbidden, which is a major reason the Holy See has no diplomatic relations with the country.
That’s what makes the news that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bought the painting through close friend, distant cousin and Saudi officeholder, Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud ironic and distressing.
The branch of Islam dominant in the Kingdom is Wahhabism, which is closely linked to the ideology of most extremist factions in the Muslim world. When the Islamic State group (ISIS) blew up cathedrals and churches in Iraq and Syria and murdered and kidnapped priests and Christian believers, they did it in the name of Islam.
It’s impossible to think Saudi clerics approve of Salman’s extravagant purchase since they forbid the depiction of Prophet Mohammed or his prophet-messengers, of whom Jesus is considered one.
It’s fair to ask if Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi is even safe in the possession of a Saudi ruler, particularly this one.
We can hope Jesus Christ as Saviour of the World is well protected and continues to move, change and transfix new viewers.
Still, it is worrisome to see a Catholic treasure transferred to war-bent rulers in Christophobic territory.