The recording breaking purchase of Leonard Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi has shocked the art world. $450 Million for a painting — and one that has been seriously damaged and painted over — indicates a new level of insanity for the art market. We could ruminate on how this sale illustrates the paradoxical relationship of art and capitalism. Or, we could turn our mental faculties to something juicer: who bought it?
Below, a somewhat facetious but sorta probable list of potential buyers:
A Drug Cartel in the Philippines: with President Deutere’s brutal crackdown on the drug trade, cartels everywhere need somewhere to hide their cash and fast. Any creative narcotics trafficker would recognize Salvator Mundi’s great potential as a vehicle to launder millions of dollars through the international financial system. And should they be unable to secure the same high sum they paid for it, paintings make for very good collateral in drug deals.
Bill Gates: The billionaire Microsoft founder has already revealed he has Da Vinci fever. Gates dropped a cool $30 million for the Codex Leicester, one of Da Vinci’s personal scientific journals, making it the most expensive book ever sold. Seems only natural to repeat the same feat with a painting.
Jeff Bezos: Maybe Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are buds, maybe they’re frenemies, maybe they hate each other. Regardless of the nature of the relationship, it’s sure that Jeff Bezos is the wealthiest man in the world. While he’s never been on a old master buying spree before, he certainly has the assets to snatch up Salvator Mundi. Maybe he bought it as a gift for his friend Bill, maybe he bought it so Bill can’t have it, maybe it’ll be in the entry hall of the new Amazon headquarters.
The Met Museum: The National Gallery’s Portrait of Ginerva de Benci is the only Leonard Da Vinci in the United States. This probably irritates the Metropolitan Museum of Art to no end. Artists have always been competitive creatures, and the museums that house their work are no different. Maybe this is the Met’s play for American art museum dominance.
Liu Yiqian: This Chinese businessman has already made headlines with expensive art buys. In 2015, he bought a Modigliani for $170 Million. While many of his billionaire pals might spirit away their masterpieces to air-conditioned shipping containers in tax-free trade zones, Liu is working to build out several museums in Shanghai. Given that he told a reporter over WeChat “Congratulations to the buyer. Feeling kind of defeated right now” one might logically assume he is not, in fact, the buyer. But, old world money is always shitting on new money China for being showy with their art buys. Maybe Liu is keeping Salvator Mundi to himself.
A Russian Oligarch: If one of these guys have it, the world will never know.
A Saudi Prince: If one of the guys have it, the world will never know. But, I feel like giving your brother the Crown Prince a Da Vinci is a good way to avoid being put under house arrest at the Ritz Carlton Riyadh.
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