"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 it's cheap restoration, 'The Salvator Mundi’s' fate is determined by an insatiable quest for fame, money and power. As it's price soars, so do questions about it's authenticity; is this painting really by 'Leonardo da Vinci'? Unravelling the hidden agendas of the richest men and 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 whole story of the most talked about painting of the century.
The main character is the painting. Brooding over it's restorer, Dianne Modestini, who began working on it just after losing her husband, Mario, a world-famous restorer himself. The restoration becomes a symbiotic process of mourning in which the painting and Mario at times become one. After she lets go of the painting, it's locked away in a freeport somewhere, leaving Dianne feeling alone, and criticized for her work. Did her restoration go as far as to transform a damaged painting into a Leonardo? She's forced to defend herself and her integrity, and seek closure on the painting and her grief. She's of the top art conservation professionals in the world, Modestini restored 'The Salvator Mundi' over several years in the period between 2005 and 2017 and became convinced the work was from the hand of 'Leonardo da Vinci'. Dianne Modestini comes under intense scrutiny but continues to fight for the attribution.
In 2008, the world’s most distinguished 'Leonardo Da Vinci' experts gathered around an easel at 'The National Gallery' in London to examine a mysterious painting?, an unassuming 'Salvator Mundi'. Despite not seeking expert's formal opinions, 'The National Gallery' presents 'The Salvator Mundi' as an autograph 'Leonardo da Vinci' painting in their 2011 blockbuster exhibition, setting in motion one of the most beguiling and perplexing art stories of our time. Filmed over a three-year period, "The Lost Leonardo" meticulously unveils the whole story behind 'The Salvator Mundi' and unfolds as a real-life thriller featuring major characters from the world of art, finance, and politics including the restorer Dianne Modestini; who speaks in the film about her role in the evolution of the painting for the first time.
1500 A.D. 'Salvator Mundi' is commissioned, possibly for 'Louis XII Of France' after his conquests of 'Genoa' and 'Milan'. There's no evidence from 'Leonardo da Vinci’s' lifetime that he painted it himself. The first certain sighting of 'The Salvator Mundi', when it's purchased by a wealthy textile manufacturer, 'Sir Francis Cook'. Cook bought the painting, as a work by 'Leonardo’s' follower 'Bernardino Luini' for £120 in 1900 from 'Sir Charles Robinson', who was the 'Surveyor' of 'Queen Victoria’s Pictures'. Art historians are still not sure of 'The Salvator Mundi’s' whereabouts between c. 1500 and 1900. There's a photo of the painting from 1911 with an old and amateurish restoration which makes it difficult to recognize it as the same painting. After having hung in 'The Cook' family house, 'The Doughty House' in 'Richmond', until 1958, the painting is sold at 'Sotheby’s' in London to an 'American' businessman, 'Warren Kuntz', for £45. 'Warren Kuntz' and his wife 'Minnie' lived in 'New Orleans'. After their deaths the painting was inherited by their nephew 'Basil Clovis Hendry Sr.' and he kept it in his house in 'Baton Rouge' until his death in 2005. It was then put for sale at 'New Orleans Auction' where it's discovered by the sharp and speculative eye of 'Alex Parish', a 'New York' art historian and dealer. Parish partners with 'Robert B. Simon' to buy 'The Salvator Mundi' for just $1175. 'The National Gallery' in 'London' asks five 'Leonardo' experts to look at 'The Salvator Mundi' over an afternoon. During the informal conversation, the scholars are open to the painting being by 'Leonardo', but they're not asked to examine the painting thoroughly or express formal opinions. 'The National Gallery' in London presents 'The Salvator Mundi' as an autograph 'Leonardo' in their blockbuster exhibition 'Leonardo da Vinci: Painter At The Court Of Milan'. 'Russian' oligarch 'Dmitry Rybolovlev' buys 'The Salvator Mundi' on May 3rd, 2013 for $127.5 million. 'Rybolovlev' later learns that his art adviser 'Yves Bouvier' had acquired the painting the day before from a consortium led by 'Robert Simon' in a private sale brokered by 'Sotheby’s'.
'Bouvier' paid the consortium $83 million before flipping the painting to 'Rybolovlev' at a markup of $44.5 million. On February 25th, 2015, 'Bouvier' is indicted in 'Monaco' on charges of fraud and complicity in money laundering. According to 'Rybolovlev', Bouvier had defrauded him of more than $1 billion, often reselling paintings to him in a matter of days at markups as high as 70%. The dispute over 'Rybolovlev’s' collection of 38 paintings spawned civil and criminal litigation in at least five jurisdictions around the world. The legal battle is still going on today. Ahead of it's auction, 'Christie’s' create an extensive marketing campaign for 'The Salvator Mundi', sending the painting New York, where it sells on November 15th, 2017 for a world record auction price of $450,300,000. 'The Salvator Mundi’s' buyer was the crown prince of 'Saudi Arabia', 'Mohammad bin Salman'. The painting’s first public appearance is scheduled at 'The Louvre Abu Dhabi' in September 2018 but the show is cancelled at the last minute. The unveiling is postponed indefinitely with no explanation given. The painting is sent instead to the 'Centre For Research And Restoration Of The Museums Of France (C2RMF) for a scientific examination..In October, 2019, 'The Louvre' in Paris opens their blockbuster 'Leonardo da Vinci' exhibition to mark the 500th anniversary of 'The Renaissance' master’s death. 'The Salvator Mundi' fails to show up despite 'The Louvre' requesting a loan. 'The Art Newspaper' reports on a secret 46-page booklet, 'Léonard de Vinci: Le Salvator Mundi', prepared by 'The Louvre' and printed in December 2019. The publication of the book was cancelled when 'The Salvator Mundi' loan was refused but some copies of the book were purchased at 'The Louvre' bookshop. The booklet provides detailed conclusions of 'The Louvre’s' scientific examinations. The results of the secret book is published by 'The French Art Newspaper', 'La Tribune De L'art', in April 2021.
This is a film about the incredible journey of a painting, 'The Salvator Mundi', 'The Saviour Of The World', possibly by 'Leonardo da Vinci'. It's a true story, yet a fairytale worthy of 'H.C. Andersen'. A damaged painting, neglected for centuries, is fortuitously rediscovered and soon after praised as a long-lost masterpiece of divine beauty. At it's peak in the spotlight, it's decried as a fake, but what's revealed most of all is that the world around it's fake, driven by cynical powers and money. The story lays bare the mechanisms of the human psyche, our longing for the divine, and our post-factual capitalist societies in which money and power override the truth. The painting becomes a prism through which we can understand ourselves and the world we live in. To this day there's no conclusive proof that the painting is, or is not, a 'da Vinci' and as long as there's a doubt, people, institutions, and states can use it for the purpose that serves them the most. It's a fantastic voyage into secret worlds that are otherwise entirely inaccessible. Worlds in which anything can be bought and sold, where prestige, power, and money play out beneath the beautiful surface of the art world.
What fascinates and disillusions is that art is being used for economic speculation and as a token in political games. Art is a beautiful manifestation of human feelings and expressions throughout history. Art belongs to humanity. Instead of being publicly accessible, it's hidden away in freeports and used for cynical and speculative purposes. The supposedly independent scientific and scholarly approach to the painting is under enormous political pressure. In the end, not only the painting is lost, but also the truth itself. The painting, a product of the very 'Renaissance' that valued freedom of science and art, ultimately becomes a victim of vested interests and power games. The story is a telling fable of our time. The film engages surprises and intrigues the viewers who themselves become detectives in the story, leaving them with a question: What do I believe to be the truth'? The documentary positions this stranger-than-fiction story squarely at the intersection of capitalism and myth-making, posing the question; is this multi-million dollar painting actually by 'Leonardo', or do certain powerful players simply want it to be?