One of my primary interests, when I went to college, was art and music, ending with a minor in fine arts. So any film about art is going to intrigue me and make me want to watch it. But this film is a step beyond that. It documents the inside story of the most expensive painting ever sold, The Salvator Mundi, its discovery, and the details of its sale. What makes it so intriguing is the questions surrounding its authenticity as well as the agendas of the rich and powerful. Ultimately, it is a fascinating story rich with intrigue and drama enough to create a legend and the documentary pulls the threads of that narrative together in a compelling fashion.
The Last Leonardo is a documentary directed by Andreas Koefoed, following the mystery behind the Salvador Mundi painting allegedly done by Leonardo Da Vinci and the quest to prove if it is authentic or not. From the moment the painting is bought for $1175 at a New Orleans auction house and the restorer discovers masterful Renaissance brushstrokes underneath the heavy varnish, the fate of the painting is determined by an insatiable quest for fame, money, and power. As the price soars, so do questions regarding its authenticity. Is the painting really by Leonardo Da Vinci or not? And while the documentary gives opinions, it also presents a fascinating look into the art world and the monetization of art by the rich and powerful for their own ends.
One of the areas that the documentary does an excellent job of is portraying all sides of this painting story, not only its very beginnings but also the narrative presented by the powerful art institutions and rich men. It begins with detailing how hunters look for paintings that might be more valuable than their selling price and how it was acquired by Alexander Parrish and Robert Simon. The men brought the painting to Dianne Modestini for restoration. One of the issues was that the painting broke into pieces during the restoration but Dianne was able to find clues that the painting was an original, not a copy. It was brought to the National Gallery to be verified but while there were those who believed it might be by Leonardo Da Vinci, there wasn’t a true authentication despite the painting being exhibited at the Gallery in London. The film is fair in giving the original owners time onscreen and interviews are done with Dianne Modestini about what led her to believe the painting was by Leonardo Da Vinci. She paints a convincing case and the documentary examines more the powerful influences of money and power.
What the film does extraordinarily well is in exploring how, just as in the past, the rich and powerful buy and sell art, not to display it for the world to see, but to collect it, to hide it, and to treat it like a trophy. It also shows how in the modern world art has become monetized, to be used as collateral and kept not for just the desire for the piece but the monetary value it holds to its buyers. The film details the purchase of the painting by Swiss businessman Yves Bouvier for $75 million only for him to broker it to a Russian collector Dmitri Rybolovlev for $127.5 million only to be stored for years. Eventually, Rybolovlev discovers that Bouvier defrauded him, as his commission was to be 2% rather than the millions he made. The greed of the wealthy causes the painting to end up at auction again, this time at Christie’s.
The rich and powerful vie over the painting like vultures looking for a trophy, while the auction house spreads a masterful marketing campaign to increase the value of the painting. What is incredible is the amount of money that is bartered for a painting that is never truly validated and eventually sells for $450 million to a Saudi Arabian prince in 2017. The painting has yet to have been seen since its sale, deepening the mystery when it fails to be shown at the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s death at an exhibition at The Louvre. Rumors swirl about the painting but what is clear is that it is only valued by the wealthy for its monetary value and as a trophy rather than as a piece of art, kept hoarded away until such time as they choose to display the piece.
To me, the film does the best in presenting all the facts and interviews from both sides of the question, leaving the viewer to decide if the art is authentic. It also presents experts that discuss the financial aspects, including the use of art to finance loans and be held as collateral in the place of money as well as how much a single painting can be of use not only as money but also for power, specifically being used in diplomatic talks between Saudi Arabia and France. The rich and powerful use many tools to maintain their wealth and influence and so art has become just one more tool, despite its value to the world. It is amazing how money and power can drive a narrative because for the powerful, if the painting is not by Da Vinci, then they have paid a lot of money and it is in their interest to maintain belief in it being real.
For me, I found the entire film fascinating from those aspects. Indeed, if you’ve ever watched a con film, this felt like that type of film, despite the documentary presenting many sides of the discussion. I do believe the story itself is intriguing and compelling enough to keep viewers absorbed in the story. If you love art and the exploration of the high-powered, rich world of influence on art and finance, you will find this film incredible. The documentary details every step of the painting’s narrative and details all the information in a way that allows you to make up your own mind. While the question is never answered, the truth about the corruption of the wealthy and powerful resonates, and just like in the days when art was commissioned by the masters themselves, the use of art as a collection continues, causing one to wonder when we will see the Last Leonardo re-emerge.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Leonardos.
The Lost Leonardo
THE LOST LEONARDO is the inside story behind the Salvator Mundi, the most expensive painting ever sold at $450 million. From the moment the painting is bought for $1175 at a shady New Orleans auction house, and the restorer discovers masterful Renaissance brushstrokes under the heavy varnish of its cheap restoration, the Salvator Mundi’s fate is determined by an insatiable quest for fame, money, and power. As its price soars, so do the questions about its authenticity: is this painting really by Leonardo da Vinci? Unraveling the hidden agendas of the richest men and the most powerful art institutions in the world, THE LOST LEONARDO reveals how vested interests in the Salvator Mundi are of such tremendous power that truth becomes secondary. THE LOST LEONARDO is written by Andreas Dalsgaard, Christian Kirk Muff, Andreas Koefoed, Mark Monroe, Duska Zagorac, and is directed by Andreas Dalsgaard. THE LOST LEONARDO was released exclusively in theaters in select cities on August 13, 2021.
ONE-LINER: The mystery surrounding the Salvator Mundi, the first painting by Leonardo da Vinci to be discovered for more than a century, which has now seemingly gone missing.