Agents are bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

The Man Who Didn’t Save the World

A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

PRINCETON – Last month, “Salvator Mundi,” Leonardo da Vinci’s portrayal of Jesus as Savior of the World, sold at auction for $400 million, more than twice the previous record for a work of art sold at auction. The buyer also had to pay an additional $50.3 million in commissions and fees.

The painting has been heavily retouched, and some experts have even questioned whether it really is by Leonardo. Jason Farago, a New York Times art critic, described it as “a proficient but not especially distinguished religious picture from turn-of-the-16th-century Lombardy, put through a wringer of restorations.”

The buyer – who many believe to be the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, acting through a distant cousin – has paid a very high price for a painting of a man who is said to have told another rich person: “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” That makes it relevant to ask: what could someone with a spare $450 million do for the poor?