Saudi Prince Salman denies buying $450m Jesus paint

People gather around Leonardo Da Vinci's Salvator Mundi

The announcement comes less than a month after the Louvre Abu Dhabi - the Paris institution's first outpost outside France - opened its doors. The rare painting of Christ, which that sold for a record $450 million, is heading to a museum in Abu Dhabi. To differentiate itself from neighboring Dubai, Abu Dhabi is targeting affluent tourists looking for culture and art and it has also built hotels, theme parks and malls.

The young and dynamic crown prince, known by his initials MBS, used an intermediary to buy the much-sought-after painting of Christ, "Salvator Mundi", the newspaper reported, citing USA intelligence and other unnamed sources.

Instead it is the UAE that has landed the prized work which will now go on display at the museum, which is at the heart of a fast emerging cultural district in the capital.

The New York Times on Wednesday, citing documents it reviewed, identified the buyer as Saudi Arabia's Prince Bader Bin Abdullah Bin Mohammed Bin Farhan Al Saud, whose country forbids the official worship of Christ or any other religion except Islam. In the span of just three days, two princes and an emirate have been named as either buyers, acquirers or proxy purchasers - depending on whom you believe. That probably won't happen if the painting is shipped to the Middle East. Most who practise Islam - the state religion of Saudi Arabia - shun visual portrayals of its prophets.

The museum opened with about 600 pieces including items from early Mesopotamia. Da Vinci's "La Belle Ferronnière" is on loan there from the Louvre in Paris.

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Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi painting has been shrouded in mystery ever since the 16th century creation - one of less than 20 known paintings by the master artist - resurfaced in 2005 at an American estate sale.

"We are delighted that the work will again be on public view", a Christie's spokesperson said of the record-setting painting.

The painting, which depicts Jesus Christ holding a glass ball in one hand, was sold at Christie's by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev on November 15.

He had bought the painting in 2013 for $127.5 million although he later accused a Swiss art dealer of overcharging him.

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