★★★★ - STUFF
- The Da Vinci documentary that's also a jaw-dropping thriller -
Any aspiring Hollywood writer who came up with the scenario of The Lost Leonardo would be told to go back to their day job and quit wasting everyone's time.
It's just one of those yarns that only real life, real people and this certifiably insane few decades we find ourselves living in, could ever have produced.
The Leonardo – Da Vinci – of the title is a pretty unassuming wee daub on a walnut slab that goes by the name of Salvator Mundi. It is a portrait of Mrs Christ's boy Jesus, holding a crystal globe and wearing a cheeky little off-the-shoulder number in a fetching shade of blue.
When this alleged lost masterpiece resurfaced, in New Orleans of all places, the art world reacted with a mix of wild excitement and perplexed disbelief. There are – maybe – 15 authenticated Da Vinci's in existence. None had been offered for sale for a century or more. And, even more incredibly, this picture had been secured for $1200 because it was offered for auction as a badly damaged, unsigned copy of the original, which was widely believed to have been lost in a fire in 1603.
The dealers who bought the painting had a hunch that it was a better piece of work than the sellers realised. But even they professed disbelief when their restorer, after months of work, called to say she believed this wasn't a copy, but was actually “from the hand of the master”.
And so, $1200 in 2005, became $US100 million in 2013, which then became – no, really – $US450 million in 2017. It was the most by far ever paid for any painting. Despite the authenticity of this Salvator Mundi still being debated and a provenance – the chain of ownership – which reads like a drunk's recollection of a big night out. Large parts of the painting's journey are simply missing, unproven or almost certainly mistaken identity.
The Lost Leonardo plays like a startlingly unlikely thriller, with Russian oligarchs, feuding critics, Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Bin Salman, French President Emmanuel Macron and a cast of dozens, all drawn from the shadowy worlds of the obscenely wealthy and their hangers-on.
When the Salvator Mundi became “worth” a nine-figure sum, it ceased to be a work of art and became a sought-after token with which huge amounts of money could be transformed into something untraceable. This financial alchemy might be bewildering and depressing to the likes of you and I, but it does make for a jaw-dropping yarn.
Go and see The Lost Leonardo, before some bloody fool tries to make a Hollywood movie out of it.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
The Lost Leonardo is now playing at Light House Cinema!