The Reel Review

B+

Hidden agendas and an insatiable quest by wealthy art dealers and buyers for fame, money and power take center stage in this documentary about the most expensive painting ever sold – the Salvator Mundi, an artwork that may – or may not – be the work of Italian master, Leonardo da Vinci.

Examining the Salvator Mundi, in The Last Leonardo.

The documentary plays out like a thriller, tracing the journey of the 500-year-old painting of Jesus Christ that was bought in 2005 at a small New Orleans auction house for just $1175 as a cheaply-restored and undervalued “sleeper,” to its years-long restoration by Dianne Modestini and eventual sale in 2017 for an astounding, record-setting $450 million. We hear from art restorers, art critics and historians as director Andreas Koefoed examines the chain of events that led many in the art world to fast-track (some say recklessly) its approval to the controversial painting that Christie’s auction house cleverly dubbed “the male Mona Lisa.”

Salvator Mundi restorer Dianne Modestini in The Last Leonardo.

The film is an intriguing glimpse at a shadowy world where the super rich use art as currency to hide their wealth from the international banking system and themselves are often conned by inscrupulous art dealers. The Last Leonardo reveals that the high-end art world appears to have become all about hidden agendas and shameless hype, and sadly, less about the art and truth.

REEL FACTS

The Salvator Mundi before and after Dianne Modestini’s  restoration.

• Dianne Modestini, the modern day restorer of the Salvator Mundi, says she was paid “very generously” for her contribution, indicating she got a percentage of its initial $75 million sale price.

• Antoine Viktine’s 2021 documentary The Savior For Sale premiered in France just as The Lost Leonardo hit theaters around the world. While almost identical, The Savior For Sale includes an interview with the heir of the painting’s Louisiana owner, showing where it was hung in the family’s New Orleans home. It also includes an interview with one-time owner, Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, and is more critical of the art historians who were quick to deem it authentic.

• The Salvator Mundi, which has not been seen in public since its purchase in November 2017, is believed to be on one of the yachts belonging to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is accused of ordering the October 2018 death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as detailed in The Dissident.

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