How interesting, if true, that the Crown Prince (and effective ruler) of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, is the real buyer of Leonardo’s ‘Salvator Mundi’, which sold for $450 million. If he were to bring back the picture to his own country — he is said to have bestowed it on Abu Dhabi — he would presumably be in breach of its laws. All Christian depictions, symbols and texts are forbidden there, even if held privately. The dominant traditions of Islam also forbid depictions of the human form. This applies more strongly to pictures of Jesus, who is a prophet in that religion, though quite definitely not regarded, as Leonardo shows him, as the Saviour of the World. Is the Crown Prince obliquely challenging Wahhabi puritanism and reaching out to other faiths, or is he simply putting his money where his mouth isn’t?
This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Notes, which appears in the Christmas issue of the Spectator