‘The Misplaced Leonardo’ Documentary Thrillingly Takes on the Salvator Mundi Saga
Leonardo da Vinci’s lately rediscovered portray Salvator Mundi (ca. 1500) might very properly eclipse the Mona Lisa in fame, although the the explanation why should do much less with its art-historical significance than its market worth—the portray offered for $450 million at a Christie’s public sale in 2017. This paradox guides Andreas Koefoed’s masterfully informed documentary The Misplaced Leonardo, which debuted this weekend on the Tribeca Movie Pageant in New York. In simply 95 minutes, Koefoed charts how the portray turned the most costly art work of all time and the way it mysteriously disappeared, within the course of managing to supply new insights right into a story that has been explored advert nauseam within the press.
The movie opens dramatically, with reenacted footage of a person rifling by way of an artwork storage unit at evening. With a flashlight in hand, he explains what a “sleeper” portray is: “a portray that’s being supplied … which is clearly by a a lot better artist than the public sale home has acknowledged. A sleeper hunter is somebody who seems for these errors, and that’s what I do.” We quickly be taught that he’s Alexander Parish, one of many two artwork sellers who bought the portray at a 2005 public sale in New Orleans, the place Salvator Mundi offered for $1,175 and was attributed to considered one of Leonardo’s followers.
When he unpacks the work, Parish shortly realized that parts of it had been painted over. He and his associate within the deal, Robert Simon, introduced on Dianne Modestini, an artwork restorer who can be a conservation professor at NYU’s Institute of Effective Arts, to scrub the portray. She found that it was extraordinarily broken, with elements of the determine’s face virtually indiscernible. Afterward, Modestini uncovered that the artist had modified the place of the Christ’s thumb, producing a pentimento, or proof of an artist’s revision. Solely later, as she was restoring the lips of the determine, did she word similarities between the portray and the Mona Lisa. “Nobody besides Leonardo may have painted this image,” she tells Koefoed.
Modestini’s position within the Salvator Mundi saga is controversial, and it’s clear that she agreed to be interviewed to rebuff her critics by sharing her facet of the story. Modestini has been accused of getting monetary curiosity within the work, as some individuals imagine that she was an element proprietor within the work. Within the documentary, she flatly denies this, saying solely that she was “paid generously” for the restoration.
Koefoed’s movie interrogates her restoration course of, with Leonardo professional Frank Zöllner saying, “The brand new elements of the portray seem like Leonardo, however they’re by the restorer. In some elements, it’s a masterpiece by Dianne Modestini.” Modestini responds: “Effectively, that’s ridiculous as a result of I can’t paint like Leonardo. I imply, it’s very flattering, but it surely’s absurd.”
Simon, too, started to search for proof that this portray may in actual fact be a Leonardo. The work in query may be traced again so far as 1900, however its provenance earlier than that’s murky. “The place did this object come from and in what context did it land within the second it’s in proper now?” asks Evan Beard, international artwork providers government at Financial institution of America. Nonetheless at the moment, nobody has the complete story, however Simon claims to have been discovered within the inventories of the deposed English kings Charles I and Charles II two now-missing works by Leonardo da Vinci, each referred to as Salvator Mundi, that describe the works as depicting a determine holding an orb. The rediscovered Salvator Mundi doesn’t have the royal model (a crown with the letters CR beneath) on its again, as could be anticipated of works that had been in royal collections, however to Simon that’s simply an irrelevant element.
For some, what cemented this rediscovered work as a bona fide Leonardo was its inclusion in a 2011 exhibition in regards to the Renaissance artist on the Nationwide Gallery in London. The present’s curator, Luke Syson, requested Parish and Simon to convey the work to London to be reviewed by a panel of da Vinci consultants, together with Martin Kemp and Maria Teresa Fiorio. A cagey Syson says within the movie that Kemp and Fiorio each felt strongly that it was a Leonardo. However the two consultants deny this to Koefoed, telling him that they’d have by no means given such an opinion, particularly in such a casual setting. One other layer of thriller derives from whether or not any scientific evaluation was carried out to the portray previous to its London debut.
Enter the beleaguered Swiss artwork seller Yves Bouvier, who has turn into well-known for the quite a few lawsuits which have been introduced in opposition to him by his onetime shopper, the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev. Rybolovlev believed that Bouvier was performing as his artwork adviser, and that he would take a fee on works that Rybolovlev bought. Truly, Bouvier purchased high-quality, blue-chip masterpieces for a sure value and offered them for a steep revenue to Rybolovlev, pocketing a reported $1 billion for himself.
A type of works was Salvator Mundi. The U.S. sellers had in thoughts a $200 million price ticket for the portray. Bouvier was capable of negotiate it all the way down to $83 million, however he informed Rybolovlev he was solely capable of get it all the way down to $127.5 million. It’s clear that he has no regrets. “You purchase low and also you promote excessive,” he says within the movie. “It’s the precept of commerce. Folks don’t perceive and say, ‘Mr. Bouvier is a cheater,’ however Mr. Bouvier is a businessman like every other.”
As soon as Rybolovlev realized that he was basically swindled by Bouvier, he tried to promote the works he had purchased by way of Bouvier at public sale. Unimpeachable masterpieces by Klimt, Gauguin, Magritte, Picasso, and Rothko had been consigned by Rybolovlev to Christie’s, in addition to Salvator Mundi. However, in keeping with Evan Beard, the Financial institution of America government, the one work that “had questions round it” was the Salvator Mundi. In an effort to “preserve their shopper completely satisfied, they went all in on this image.”
And so started a frenetic advertising and marketing marketing campaign during which the public sale home referred to as the portray the “male Mona Lisa.” In a single promotional video, actor Leonardo di Caprio is proven standing in entrance of the portray. In the meantime, the portray goes on a world tour, as crowds snake across the block to get a glimpse of it. As Alison Cole, the editor of the Artwork Newspaper, places it, “Christie’s is within the enterprise of promoting—it’s not within the enterprise of authenticating.”
After the portray offered for $450 million, capturing far past its $180 million estimate, hypothesis swirled about who purchased it. New York Occasions journalist David Kirkpatrick reported that it was purchased by a proxy for Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. MBS and the Saudi authorities have by no means confirmed that they had been the consumers, although Koefoed spends time exploring why they might have bought the work. Was it merely a political technique meant to spice up Saudi Arabia’s place within the worldwide artwork world, or did MBS merely have a private connection to the work? Koefoed by no means affords particular conclusions, and it’s potential nobody will ever know for certain what actually occurred.
Given the timing of the sale, some questioned if the work may reappear within the 2019 Leonardo exhibition on the Louvre in Paris, timed to the five hundredth anniversary of the artist’s demise. It by no means ended up occurring view on the museum, igniting additional controversy. Including extra gasoline to the fireplace was the truth that although the Louvre had secretly analyzed the portray and produced a booklet, full of recent technical data, during which the museum confirmed “that the work is by Leonardo da Vinci.” That e book was by no means formally printed by the Louvre as a result of the mortgage by no means got here by way of, and the museum has tried to disclaim its existence.
Main questions nonetheless linger: Is Salvator Mundi surely a piece by Leonardo da Vinci? Was the work actually bought by MBS, and why would he have paid such an astronomical value for it? The place is the portray now, and can the general public ever see it once more? Viewers anticipating solutions might discover themselves dissatisfied by The Misplaced Leonardo, which doesn’t come any nearer to the reality than any prior reporting on the topic. What the documentary does present, although, is that, it doesn’t matter what the reality is, everybody has their very own set concepts about Salvator Mundi, and there’s no convincing them in any other case. As investigative journalist Alexandra Bergman says at one level, “Even when it’s determined months, years, a long time later that it’s probably not by Leonardo da Vinci, these $450 million will dwell out in eternity as a worth put upon this murals.”
The Misplaced Leonardo premiered on the Tribeca Movie Pageant on June 13. It’s scheduled for a theatrical launch within the U.S. this August.