A large yacht for a small painting


One of the world’s largest and best-known yachts in place of a Leonardo?

No, we’re not talking of a spanking new helicopter from the Leonardo aerospace group – rather a 500 years old piece of walnut covered with oil paint. It’s the painting Salvatore Mundi now hanging proudly in Abu Dhabi’s Louvre museum. The yacht is the 147 metres long Topaz, with its 26 bedrooms able to accommodate 52 people.

A bit of history. The painting, of Jesus with two fingers raised in benediction, was auctioned by Christies in New York last December to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman at a hammer price of $450 million – the highest price ever paid for work of art. Then the furore over the sale started in the New York Times, persuading Bin Salman to hand the painting to the museum in Abu Dhabi for public display.

The originally heavily overpainted art work was, in fact, discovered when it was sold for a miserable $10,000 at a New Orleans auction in 2005 and believed, until it was later authenticated as a real Leonardo in 2011, to be a poor copy of the original. Not any more! It has been fully restored to its original glory and is available for all to see in one of the world’s leading museums.

Now, the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Zayed has offered Topaz, itself valued at $450 million, to the crown prince in compensation. Perhaps he can now sail off in unparalleled yachting comfort and drop into Abu Dhabi at his convenience to gaze at one of the world’s greatest art treasures.