By Agence France-Presse
The Louvre Abu Dhabi on Monday celebrated two years since it opened its doors, but the fate of what was to be a prize exhibit remains unknown.
The world’s most expensive painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi was meant to go on display at the museum in September 2018.
But in a surprise move, the United Arab Emirates postponed the hanging.
The famous work has not been seen in public since it was sold for $450 million at a Christie’s auction in 2017, sparking speculation over its authenticity and its buyer.
Asked whether or not the piece would go on display in the coming year, museum head Manuel Rabate told AFP it was “a question for the city”, referring to Emirati authorities.
The emirate’s Department of Culture and Tourism declined to comment.
The Salvator Mundi — in which Jesus Christ is depicted emerging from darkness, blessing the world with one hand while holding a transparent globe in the other — is the last known Da Vinci in the hands of a private collector.
The museum had said in December 2017 that the culture department had acquired the work, which dates to around 1500.
The Wall Street Journal first reported that the painting was bought by Saudi prince Badr bin Abdullah, acting in the name of the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Riyadh never confirmed or denied the report.
Artprice, the leading art market information service, said clerics from Cairo’s prestigious Al Azhar university had told Prince Mohammed the painting could not be displayed on religious grounds.
Jesus is seen as a prophet within Islam, which prohibits any physical depiction of God. But the picture portrays him as a savior and thus a deity.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened with about 600 pieces including items from early Mesopotamia.
Under a 30-year agreement, France provides expertise, lends works of art and organizes exhibitions in return for one billion euros ($1.16 billion).
The first works on loan from the Louvre in Paris included another Da Vinci painting, “La Belle Ferronniere”, one of his portraits of women.
On Monday the museum hosted a ceremony to name a street after Jacques Chirac, honoring the late French president for his role in French-Emirati relations.
Chirac’s daughter, Claude, attended the naming ceremony for the road leading to the museum.
Rabate said the venue has welcomed around two million visitors since it opened.
“This shows that we have found our place in Abu Dhabi and in Emirati society,” he said.