• gerard van weyenbergh

Da Vinci today is it art, money, power?

"Salvator Mundi": the documentary "The lost Leonardo" dismantles the speculative cogs of the art market

Is it a matter of art or a matter of big money and power? Built like a thriller, the documentary The lost Leonardo, in theaters on Wednesday January 26, traces the history of the mysterious most expensive painting in the world, attributed by some to Leonardo da Vinci.

The most expensive painting in the world is a 65cm by 45cm oil painting, where Christ emerges from the darkness, blessing the world with one hand while holding a globe in the other. Attributed in whole or in part to Leonardo da Vinci by some, the "Salvator Mundi" (Savior of the world, in Latin) has been the subject of several battles by experts and has never been able to be authenticated with certainty.

Under these conditions, how could this painting have been sold for 450 million dollars at Christie's in 2017? A new documentary in theaters on Wednesday attempts to unravel the mystery.

A documentary subtitled "art, money and power"

Built as a thriller, The lost Leonardo by Dane Andreas Koefoed, subtitled " art, money and power ", traces the history of the mysterious painting, which resurfaced during an auction in New Orleans in 2005 when it was thought to have disappeared since the 17th century.

It was then bought for 1,175 dollars by a New York art dealer, an American expert restored it, convinced of its attribution to Leonardo da Vinci. The painting has never reappeared since 2017. It was then resold at least twice until it was acquired for $450 million at a high-profile auction in New York in 2017 and then called " the male double of the Mona Lisa ".". Its buyer would be the Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which has never been officially confirmed.

Shot for three years and extremely documented, the film gives voice to many experts in the master of the Italian Renaissance and the art market, including FBI experts.

"A revealing lie of our time", slices an art critic

"A scam like the others " and " a revealing lie of our time ", slice Jerry Saltz, American art critic. It shows how an artistic mystery has become a " sort of global trophy used for speculative purposes and probably for political bargaining ", the director told AFP. "It is also a mirror of ourselves, which shows how ready we are to believe in lies as in a religion," adds Andreas Koefoed.

A curator from the National Gallery in London, who in 2008 brought together the greatest specialists of Leonardo da Vinci, overruled the result of this meeting by asserting that it was indeed a painting by the master. It was exhibited in its museum in 2011 but never formally authenticated by these same experts.

A painting "too suspicious"

Another strong point: the detailed itinerary of the painting, refused by all the major museums in the world because it was too " suspicious ", but acquired in 2013 by a Swiss businessman, Yves Bouvier, heir to a transport company and trade specialist. works of art, who sold it to a Russian oligarch.

The latter will part with it, believing that he has been " abused " by this intermediary. At the heart of these transactions: the vast free ports, tax havens with storage spaces filled with works of art which would represent " billions of dollars ", never taxed because considered as " in transit ".

Controversy around a mysterious expertise

Highly anticipated during the major exhibition at the Louvre devoted to the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death, at the end of 2019, the "Salvator Mundi" was ultimately never exhibited there, with the exception of a pale copy, on a background of controversy around an expertise of the famous museum which would attest to its authenticity, partially made public by the Tribune de l'Art.

Questioned by AFP, the Louvre still does not wish to deny or confirm its expertise and its results, contained in a small booklet published by mistake on the occasion of the exhibition.

France Culture. Video: trailer of the movie