The world of high art is, for many, an elitist alliance of both beauty and farce, where works of great importance are sold for egotistical sums of economic grandeur. Though, art galleries around the world remain icons of tourism and proud landmarks of a country’s cultural importance. The story of The Lost Leonardo is one that neatly illustrates such an industry, exclaiming its inextricable link to world politics as well as its relation to the capitalist construct of commercialism.
Acquired in 2005, the now-famous Salvator Mundi thought to have been painted by the great Leonardo da Vinci was purchased for no less than $10,000, by two specialists in the old masters of painting. Restoring the piece to its original state uncovered a lifetime of physical damage and scarring as Dianne Dwyer Modestini, an internationally renowned conservator of artwork, went about touching up the Salvator Mundi to better resemble the original image.
Told in three parts, and in great detail, by director Andreas Koefoed, the story of The Lost Leonardo is a fascinating one, breaking the history of the Salvator Mundi down in order to fully register its sociological significance. As with many documentaries of a similar nature, the compelling premise offers constant stimulation before slowing in the second act, though the sheer thrill of the final sequence more than makes up for such minor pace issues.
Where the art world and the business world meet is around the place where the story of the Salvator Mundi exists, a figure of disputed origin blindly believed to be the 450 million dollar masterpiece of Leonardo Da Vinci. Historians, experts and museums play tennis with the sheer concept of its authenticity, too fascinated to deny its legitimacy whilst too sceptical to blindly believe its existence. Such switches the film from an examination into the restoration of a true classic, to the folly of desire, greed and the human lust for attention as businessmen and world leaders use the art as a manipulative piece of emotional attachment.
Selling the idea that the Salvator Mundi transcends art and meaning, much like the iconic Mona Lisa, those in charge of the painting were able to manipulate potential buyers with ingenious marketing tactics. They advertised not the painting itself but the cultural and emotional significance of such art, which, considering its continued debatable origins is nothing short of fascinating,
“It’s not just art history, it’s world politics” Alison Cole of The Art Newspaper utters in the film’s final act as the buyer of the piece is revealed and the facade of mystery is partially dropped. The truth to Andreas Koefoed’s captivating documentary is that the truth of the painting doesn’t matter, what does matter is the fiction that we ascribe to it, which, in turn, becomes truth. As a result, The Lost Leonardo stands as a monolithic example of the lunacy of modern consumerism and the power of the modern concept of fake news. Short and succinct, the brand new documentary from sociological explorers Dogwoof is a modern-day parable of beauty and greed.
The Lost Leonardo is released in UK cinemas on September 10.