The Lost Leonardo – movie review

Is it real or a fake? That was the $64,000 question … or, in the case of The Lost Leonardo, a lot more. The film examines the tale of Salvator Mundi, a painting that could be (but probably isn’t) the work of Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci. Depending on the source, as few as 15 of his actual paintings survive today. Since the film was released abroad, sentiment has strengthened that the canvas may well have not been painted by da Vinci, but perhaps by one of his students or followers.

You can imagine the excitement around the art world when a possible, but significantly damaged, artwork supposedly by da Vinci first “resurfaced”. Salvator Mundi (Latin for Saviour of the world) depicts Jesus in blue Renaissance dress, making the sign of the cross with his right hand and holding a transparent crystal orb in his left. It was originally purchased by sleeper hunter (a person who looks for undervalued paintings) Alexander Parish in partnership with Old Masters’ art dealer Robert Simon. The source was a New Orleans auction house. The year was 2005 and the price was just US$1,175.

The documentary, filmed over three years, details the painting’s “journey” and it unfolds as a gripping mystery thriller. I thought the filmmakers did a fabulous job weaving together this most incredible tale.  There are twists aplenty and the common threads are rarity, greed and exploitation. The Lost Leonardo unfolds through interviews with many of the key players involved since the work was found. They include the woman who had the job of restoring the painting, one of the world’s top art conversation professionals, Dianne Modestini, who began working on it just after losing her husband, Mario, himself a world-famous restorer.

Also involved are a Swiss art dealer, a Russian billionaire, the National Gallery, da Vinci experts, a top banker, writers, art critics, investigative reporters, the FBI, the CIA, the Louvre, France and Saudi Arabia.

I was totally mesmerised throughout this documentary. In fact, I was thinking if this was the plot of a narrative feature, I wouldn’t have believed it. It would have appeared too far-fetched. That speaks volumes about the fine work that director Andreas Koefoed and his team have produced.

The Lost Leonardo is in rarefied air and should not be missed.

Alex First

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