Between Trump’s tweet-storm, including his claim of being a “very stable genius”, the actual bombshell-storm that hit the American East Coast and uprisings in Iran, the fact that Saudi prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud bought a Da Vinci for nearly half a billion dollars (about 341 million pounds), only to then donate it to a foreign museum, seems like a trivial fact. But it’s not. $450 million dollars is as much as about the entire GDP of a small Caribbean island.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi, where the painting will be on display, is a franchise of the Paris original. The Saudi Arabian royal family has given the artwork to the museum as an act of good faith, to underline their good relationship with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In reality, of course, political motivations were probably just as (if not more) decisive. The museum in itself stands, in a way, as a symbol to increase the oil sheikhdoms soft power credibility, to empower their seat at the table in global decision-making.
Domestically speaking, however, spending $450 million on a painting may have less favourable consequences for the prince. The purchase comes at a time when Saudi Arabia, led by their crown prince, is containing the excesses of the royal family and exposing numerous corruption scandals. Since the start of their anti-corruption purge, at least 376 people’s assets are reported to have been frozen, and many people have been detained. In his thirst for change and reform, the 32-year-old crown prince has led his country through a phase of harsh austerity, cutting spending and raising taxes in order to make the country more independent of oil revenues. This could be argued to be a good thing, if only the initiator of this campaign could stop his own relatives from shaking up an insane amount of money from an undisclosed source to purchase one single painting. Talk about hypocrisy.
Additionally, the prince may have generated an upstirring with the religious elite, as images of non-Islamic prophets, such as Jesus, may be considered immoral and against religious principle by many Sunni Muslims. This, however, may not come as a surprise, as the crown prince has said before he’s planning on turning the kingdom towards a more moderate Islam once he is in power, away from puritanical interpretations of the religion. He might even allow women to drive one day. It’s a revolution.
Maybe the world has officially gone mad. Maybe it’s just a reflection of the insane disproportional distribution of wealth that exists in the world. Call it what you will, but the fact that that money could have bought off the state debt of a small nation-state like Montserrat is something to reflect upon.