AFI DOCS 2021 REVIEW! The Lost Leonardo, directed by Andreas Koefoed, is about precisely what the title seems to be suggesting. In 2005, “sleeper hunter” art deal Alexander Parish purchased the painting Salvator Mundi for slightly over a grand. The picture was attributed to a follower of Leonardo da Vinci. But upon examining the artwork, he notices that something was amiss. See, he noticed that there were several layers of touch-up and restoration, causing questions to its veracity.
So, he and his partner in art, Robert Simon, call upon the services of Dianne Modestini, art restorer. As she begins to uncover the truth, she comes to the conclusion that Salvator Mundi is the ninth picture created by da Vinci himself. Controversy over this claim almost immediately began as soon as it was made, and the truth of the art, as discussed by the several experts interviewed, make up the heart of the film.
“…she comes to the conclusion that Salvator Mundi is the ninth picture created by da Vinci…”
Written by Koefoed, Christian Kirk Muff, Andreas Dalsgaard, Mark Monroe, and Duska Zagorac, The Lost Leonardo proves to be a thoughtful examination of not only the origins of the painting at its center but of perception. The way the piece takes on a life of its own, because of the contentious claims surrounding it, makes the art worth more no matter who actually created it. Furthermore, the idea that this was intentionally made to do that very thing is floated, which really amps the stakes, so to speak.
On the technical side of things, the movie hardly breaks the mold. Its talking heads are injected with exactly what one would expect from an art-centric documentary: footage of restorations, the piece hanging here or there, etc. But don’t take that as an overt criticism, as the director gets a lot of mileage out of allowing the audience to really see Salvator Mundi and judge its authenticity for themselves. Koefoed does a fantastic job of making viewers more than mere spectators here, and it pays off.
The Lost Leonardo tells the tale of the most scrutinized painting of all time in fascinating, exhaustive detail. All the interviewees, none of whom agree whether or not it’s a da Vinci, are intelligent and make their case eloquently. Moreover, the script engagingly toys with the ideas of perception, and whether or not Salvator Mundi being an actual da Vinci even matters. As a result, it proves more lively and engrossing than one might have initially expected based on its premise.
"…gets a lot of mileage out of allowing the audience to really see Salvator Mundi and judge its authenticity..."