I vaguely remember reading about a painting being sold for a record-breaking $400+ million a few years ago, but I didn’t remember exactly which painting it was. Well, this documentary by Danish filmmaker Andreas Koefoed traced the 12-year journey of the Salvator Mundi (Latin for Savior of the World) that was originally discovered at a New Orleans auction house. It went from $1175 in 2005 prior to its restoration by renowned conservator/restorer Dianne Modestini, all the way to $450 million by the time it was sold at Christie’s in 2017. If you pay attention to the opening sequence graphics, it shows the exponential growth of its value over the years… which goes to show that art world isn’t so much about the love of art, it’s all about money… it’s another avenue to store money for the rich.
One of the talking heads said that “After drugs n prostitution, the art market is the most unregulated market in the world… you don’t know who owns something, how much it’s worth, who’s buying or selling it…” Despite the fact that it’s not 100% certain that the painting is done by Leonardo Da Vinci himself, the elite art collectors and general public alike were in awe of the Salvator Mundi. After being shown at the The National Gallery in London (at the Da Vinci exhibition), the painting gained immense celebrity status that it even dubbed the male Mona Lisa.
I’m always fascinated by the art world, but the film also touched upon art commerce, history, even international politics, such as the feud between a Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev and Le Freeport owner Yves Bouvier. Even CIA operatives were interviewed and one of them talked about how money can be moved in different ways thru the Free Port system, which exists as a tax free haven from the ultra rich so they can keep expensive purchases secret from tax authorities. It’s so sad to see art simply existing in a vacuum, amazing paintings and other art work are sitting in the dark in these big warehouses instead of being seen and appreciated by people.
The film itself is brilliantly-directed. I’ve seen so many documentaries that are so dull to watch despite its intriguing subject matter. It even played like a thriller at times, as the mystery of the painting’s authenticity and where it would go next continues to pique my curiosity. Koefoed keeps the standard talking head interviews from being tedious like in many documentaries. I also like how the news quotes shown like clippings that fade in and out the screen. From art scholars, art critic, investigators, even Yves Bouvier himself talking about his legal battle with Rybolovlev, everyone has something interesting to say about the Salvator Mundi. Art critic Jerry Saltz in particular is the most animated talker and he happens the be the only one who staunchly doubt the painting is an authentic Leonardo.
The film certainly has the ingredients of a good thriller–money, power, greed, treachery–as art is nothing more than collateral or power showcase. The third act plays like a detective story, and I’m glad I didn’t remember the news on it as I was kept in suspense as to who ends up buying the painting for $450 million! Let me just leave you with the acronym MBS… which is just so creepy considering the kind of man he is and the criminal stuff he continues to get away with. One of the talking heads suggest that the reason he bought the painting is that ‘he might have seen himself as the savior of the world’ [shudder]
At the end of the film, I feel the most for Modestini who’s affected greatly by her assessment that the painting is a Leonardo. As someone who truly cares about art and thinks the painting belongs in a museum, it must pain her to see where Salvator Mundi ends up at the hands of people who have no regard for it, or any art form for that matter. I for one can’t imagine a piece of art could be worth SO much, but I suppose it is naive of me to think that people who buy such a painting do it because they appreciate its beauty or that it has some profound meaning to them, and this documentary definitely serves as a chilling eye-opener.
The Lost Leonardo is proof just how riveting a good documentary can be. The production values is top notch as well, with beautiful cinematography by Adam Jandrup and evocative Italian-tinged music by Sveinung Nygaard. Definitely one of the best documentaries I’ve seen so far, and one that just might end up on my best film list of the year.