PARIS – First TV in Paris for a documentary on the incredible story of the “Salvator Mundi”, a work that had been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci but which according to the current opinion of the experts was not painted by the great genius of the Italian Renaissance. The Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman paid for it at the highest price ever paid for a work of art, 450 million dollars.
The documentary, made in two years of investigation by the journalist and writer Antoine Vitkine, was presented exclusively to the weekly L’Obs. Bin Salman, emerges from the documentary, was the protagonist – albeit anonymously because the auction at Christie’s in New York was an intermediary – of a memorable acquisition, with raises “of 20 million”. It was November 2017 and the painting was presented as Leonardo’s, its genesis and history were briefly summarized in the brochures of the auction house. The most recent data reveals a modest New York art dealer, Robert Simon, who buys it at auction in 2005 for $ 1,175. “I just knew that I was dealing with an ancient work, something with potential,” he says. For this reason he entrusts the painting, rather shabby, even retouched, to his friend restorer Dianne Modestini, who works on it and accesses what remains of the original image. “He is the lost da Vinci”, says the restorer, gazing at the picture of Christ who blesses with one hand and holds the sphere of the world with the other. She is especially convinced by an imprint on her left palm, according to her the work of the “left-handed” Leonardo. He convinces Simon that he has the picture of his life in hand.
Half-world museums are not convinced, a glimmer is offered to Simon in London, with the interest of the National Gallery. Five experts examine the painting and lean towards a work with the participation of Leonardo, especially in the right hand of Christ, but skepticism dominates. Only Martin Kemp, a controversial and very media expert, whose opinion will then be the basis of the sale at Christie’s in 2017, is the only one to defend Leonardo’s paternity. hand of Modestini and come to ironize the work by defining it as “a Leonarstini”.
When it arrives at Christie’s in 2017, Salvator Mundi is the subject of fierce disputes and has already passed from hand to hand, from a Russian oligarch, transferred to Singapore, proposed to the Vatican, to the Bushes, to Chinese, Texan and Arab entrepreneurs. The documentary explores the hypotheses that led bin Salman to spend half a billion dollars to treat himself to a masterpiece of Christian art: from the competition with the Qatari opponent, who collects Gauguin, Cezanne and other masterpieces, to the sensational gesture for his coronation . But faced with the Louvre’s failure to recognize the authenticity of the author’s hand, the Saudi prince – according to the documentary – attempted to turn his whim into a “geopolitical gimmick”, turning the picture at the Louvre branch in Abu Dhabi. Even today, and although the news is in the public domain, the Saudi power has never officially declared that Salman is the owner of the “last da Vinci”.
Feverish negotiations followed in 2019, when it seemed that the controversial painting could finally be exhibited at the large exhibition dedicated to Leonardo in the Louvre with pressure to have the work appear alongside the Mona Lisa for a diplomatic “consecration”. The French did not certify the author, at most one could get to a signature of “Leonardo da Vinci and his atelier”. Bin Salman refused the loan and no one has been able to know for sure where the Salvator Mundi is. It is said aboard the “Serene”, the prince’s 458 million yacht, while others lean towards a bank safe in a free port. A painting by “Leonardo and atelier” is quoted on the art market for a maximum of twenty million euros.