"Art, Money and Politics"
What You Need To Know:
THE LOST LEONARDO is a fascinating look into the sometimes devious machinations of today’s modern art world and the marketing, selling and buying of art. The movie gets sort of sidetracked, however, by focusing on the politics behind the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince’s exorbitant purchase of “Salvador Mundi.” THE LOST LEONARDO has some brief foul language, brief nudity in a painting, and a slightly anti-capitalist view of how commerce and marketing has warped the creation, selling and buying of art.
THE LOST LEONARDO is a documentary about finding, restoring, marketing, and selling an alleged “lost” painting of Jesus Christ by Leonardo Da Vinci, titled “Salvador Mundi,” or “Savior of the World.” Though the discovered painting’s authenticity is in doubt to some experts, the painting itself is beautiful, if not sublime, and THE LOST LEONARDO is a fascinating look into the sometimes devious machinations of the modern art world, with a sidetrack into international politics when Saudi Arabia buys the paining for a record 450 million dollars, but it seems to have a slightly anti-capitalist view of how commerce and glitzy marketing has warped the creation, selling and buying of art.
The documentary is divided into three parts, “The Art Game,” “The Money Game” and The Global Game.” It details how the damaged painting was found, then restored by a famous female restorer married to a longtime art expert. It then shows the painting was sold for about $80 to a shifty Swiss middleman, who procured it for a shifty Russian oligarch, who paid the middleman $127 million. Eventually, the painting is sold for a whopping $450 million at Christie’s auction house to the Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince. The Louvre in Paris tried to display the painting at a fancy Leonardo exhibit, but the Crown Prince withdraws the painting at the last minute when the Louvre refuses to show the painting in the same room as Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa,” which is now allegedly worth more than $1 billion.
The filmmakers behind THE LOST LEONARDO interview nearly all the involved participants, except, of course, the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince and the Russian oligarch. The Russian oligarch is suing the Swiss middleman because he thinks the man ripped him off by overcharging him for art pieces procured by the middleman. The Russian was also upset after several major art critics and some people at the FBI’s art fraud department cast doubt on the painting’s authenticity. Meanwhile, the Swiss middleman has been charged by Geneva with defrauding the Russian oligarch and tax evasion by Switzerland. One of the interviews shows the sad-faced Dutch middleman lamenting that his billion-dollar fortune, and his family company is in limbo because of the controversy.
Despite the suspicions about the painting’s authenticity, the art restorer stands behind the painting’s authenticity. However, some art critics and scholars, including one very skeptical, vocal art expert, say the painting isn’t any good. The skeptical art expert thinks the painting was painted by one of Leonardo’s beginning students, or, worse, by an obscure admirer in the generation or two after Leonardo. Some people also believe that the art restorer inserted her own interpretation of the painting to make it look more like something Leonardo could have painted. The movie ends with an alleged report from the Louvre, which claims it examined the painting when its experts were preparing it for exhibition and declared the painting authentic. Doubt is cast on that report, however, since the Louvre has a conflict of interest in examining the painting, because it stood to make lots of money from exhibiting it with the other works by Leonardo Da Vinci. Despite this, several other major experts stand behind the painting’s authenticity, though other major experts disagree. It’s possible, of course, that Leonardo Da Vinci had a hand in creating only part of this particular painting, even though it’s widely believed that, at some point, he did paint such a painting of Jesus using this particular pose. Sadly, however, the documentary doesn’t get into the detailed pros and cons concerning the painting’s authenticity, so it leaves viewers with an unsolved mystery.
Though the discovered painting’s authenticity is in doubt, the painting itself is beautiful, if not sublime. Consequently, the painting generates a strong sense of appropriate reverence whenever it appears on the screen and sometimes when it’s discussed by people in the movie. After all, Jesus Christ is indeed the Savior of the World.
Ultimately, THE LOST LEONARDO is a fascinating look into the sometimes devious machinations of the modern art world and the marketing, selling and buying of art. The movie gets sort of sidetracked, however, by focusing on the politics behind the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince’s exorbitant purchase of the “Salvador Mundi.” One of the movie’s most exciting scenes is the crazy bidding war that the Crown Prince’s representatives and a museum engage in during the auction at Christie’s. The bidding war is what drives the painting’s price to astronomical proportions. The movie spends too much time discussing the politics behind the Crown Prince’s purchase, however. It’s actually the documentary’s least interesting part. That said, the movie reports that investigators believe the Crown Prince is storing the painting on his yacht, in preparation to displaying it at a major cultural center the Saudi government and the Crown Prince are building to spruce up their international image.
THE LOST LEONARDO also seems to have a slightly anti-capitalist view of how commerce and glitzy marketing has warped the creation, selling and buying of art. While this view may have some truth in it, the filmmakers seem to take a little glee in undermining the integrity of the Russian oligarch and the Swiss art broker. Both men use a tax dodge called freeports, where fancy warehouses next to international airports are used to store, buy and sell expensive objects, including priceless works of art, far away from the prying eyes of government tax and police officials. To be clear, though, governments have legalized freeports as a way to encourage economic activity. Also, the Saudi Crown Prince bought the painting for $450.3 million, of which $50.3 million went to Christie’s and perhaps other art brokers. So, in the end, the Taxman probably did receive part of his pound of flesh. Government criminal investigators note, however, that freeports are not only used to evade taxes, especially sales taxes, they’re also used to launder money, to finance terrorism and to get unofficial personal loans that don’t show up in a company or a person’s official books.
THE LOST LEONARDO has brief foul language and nudity in a painting that appears onscreen in one scene. So, MOVIEGUIDE® advises caution for older children.