Film Review ‘The Lost Leonardo’

John Thomas

With a flashlight in one hand, an art scavenger creeps around a darkened art storage warehouse in New Orleans. His other hand is leafing through old books and piles of drawings and paintings. He appears to be stealing but actually he’s searching for a special “find.” He eventually comes across a 19” x 25” wood panel painting of a biblical figure.

He believes strongly enough it’s from the school of Leonardo da Vinci to telephone his business partner to decide if they should buy it for $1,175. They agree it’s worth the risk, so the painting is purchased and is sent to New York for much needed restoration.

After close examination, New York’s eminent restoration authority feels it’s a genuine da Vinci, which moves it closer to being authenticated as such. The subject of the work is Salvator Mundi (Latin for Savior of the World), a popular subject at the time as there are 30+ copies in circulation of the same image.

Once the delicate and time-consuming restoration is completed, the painting is boxed and flown to London for examination by a group of internationally recognized art luminaries. Nearly all agree that the work is by the master’s hand. One convincing detail is the thumb on the subject’s right hand. It was first painted in one position and then changed to a different position – only da Vinci would make such a change.

Before any artwork is ready for sale, its provenance must be established and certified genuine. This is quite a task as Salvador Mundi is mentioned only twice in all past London records from centuries ago. One reference was in connection to a buyer in Louisiana.

This was evidence enough for the current owners of the painting to put it up for auction. The work was sold for around $83,000 – a good return on an $1,176 investment. But the travels of the painting are not over yet, nor has its value topped out. It’s next sold for around $200 million.

In 2017 it was again up for auction, this time at Christie’s in New York. The excitement in the packed auction room was electric, but when the “sold” gavel touched down at a staggering $450 million sales price the audience was stunned. Two questions immediately arose, who has that kind of money to purchase a work with a slightly questionable provenance and will it ever be seen again?

Correspondence soon insude between the current owner and the Louvre in Paris. The museum was planning a 2019 exhibit of 11 da Vinci works to commemorate the 500th anniversary of his death. They would love to include the Salvator Mundi, but the owner has stipulations.

The queue forming at the entrance to the Louvre is long, some people having waited for hours to see the famed lost Leonardo for the first time. Visitors to the exhibit rooms move very slowly, but when they come to the place for the Salvator Mundi, they completely stop. They are in a state of shock!

Directed by Andreas Koefoed (Credits: At Home in the World, The Arms Drop), this “must see” presentation shows the complexity and excitement in the art world – the real and the fake, the truth and the fiction, greed and lawlessness and, surprisingly enough, the involvement of the CIA and the FBI.


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