Intrigue over absent masterpiece as da Vinci show opens doors

A major exhibition marking 500 years since the death of Leonardo da Vinci opened in Paris on Thursday but there was intrigue over whether the “Salvator Mundi” painting of Christ, one of the best-known works attributed to the master, would make a late appearance.

The exhibition at the Louvre Museum brought together in one place works by the Renaissance master, many of them loaned from institutions in different parts of the world.

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But “Salvator Mundi”, which sold for $450.3 million in November 2017, was a notable absence. The New York auction house that sold it said it was acquired by an Abu Dhabi branch of the Louvre, but it has not gone on display there or been seen publicly since the sale.

The exhibition in Paris featured a version of the same painting made by one of da Vinci’s disciples.

“The Louvre Museum has no announcements to make about that,” a Louvre spokeswoman said on Thursday when asked if the real “Salvator Mundi” might make an appearance in the exhibition, which runs until Feb. 24 next year.

The Louvre is already home to the artist’s most famous artwork, the Mona Lisa. That work is not part of the exhibition and has remained on display in a different part of the museum.

Da Vinci left his native Italy when his patron died and spent his last years in France as the guest of the French monarch. He died in May 1519 at the Loire Valley chateau that had become his home.

One of the loaned artworks, “Vitruvian Man”, was the subject of a political tussle, with some groups in Italy, where the work is kept, saying it should not go to France.

But the piece took its place among the artworks in the exhibition on Thursday, after a judge in Venice authorised the loan. It will stay at the Louvre for just eight weeks before going home. The Louvre cited its fragility as the reason for the curtailed stay.

The exhibition has been an instant hit. According to the museum, 260,000 tickets have already been sold.

“It’s supposed to be the biggest, best exhibition on Leonardo that’s taken place in an awfully long time,” said Alan Kanzer, from New York, who was in the Louvre’s courtyard on Thursday.

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