Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Lost and Found? The art world loses perspective in “The Lost Leonardo”

Photo courtesy of Sony Classics

What makes art valuable? Is it the artist who painted it? Is it the subject or the style it is painted in? Or is it the consumer who makes it valuable?

Director Andreas Koefoed’s “The Lost Leonardo” sets out to prove the latter in a dramatic account so full of twists and turns that it is almost comical, of the uncovering of the “Salvator Mundi”—or at least the version of it that surfaced in 2005.

It all begins when Alexander Parish and Robert Simon, two art dealers, purchase a damaged, painted-over “Salvator Mundi” for $1,200 at an art auction. While there are many copies of this famous painting by Leonardo DaVinci’s followers, the original DaVinci piece has been lost to the world since the early 1900s. So, naturally, any version of the “Salvator Mundi” has just a twinge of hope attached to it.

Parish and Simon take their severely damaged painting and bring it to Dianne Dwyer Modestini, an art restorer and conservation professor at the NYU Institute of Fine Arts, and she begins to clean the painting. By the end of this process, she is certain that it is DaVinci’s work. She claims the way the shading of the lip is painted could not be done by anyone other than DaVinci himself, noting the similarities between it and the “Mona Lisa.”

And so the spark is ignited. Modestini’s involvement in this scenario is a bit controversial, as many believe she had financial interest in the piece—she denies anything other than being paid generously for her restoration work. But Parish and Simon bring the painting to several other art critics to get their opinion, and, pretty soon, word begins to spread that they may just have a DaVinci original.

“Everyone wanted it to be a Leonardo,” one art critic says.

There are, however, plenty of critics who blatantly disagree. Many believe that the only parts of the painting that look like Leonardo’s work are the parts that were painted over by Modestini. Others believe that there are too many flaws in the painting for it to be the work of such a great artist—uneven eyes, no background distortion behind the orb and painted on wood, allowing for the grain to interfere with the work.

But the undecided origin of the painting does not prevent it from making waves in the art consumer world. This is where this documentary really shines, showing the painting’s rapid progression through auctions and various transactions, gleaning more and more financial value as it goes, much to the chagrin of many art critics. But art takes on the value we give it. Even sometimes up to $450.3 million.

We see billionaires, Saudi Arabian princes, French presidents and the Louvre all losing their collective minds over a painting with origins that are still uncertain. Just when you think the painting’s power has reached its peak, the stakes get raised every time. It is a fantastical tale, and Koefoed tells it in such an engaging way, weaving the power of financial gain in the art world into the modern history of this potential last work of Leonardo.

Nearly everyone who plays a part in this story, right down to the handful of art critics who studied the piece in its early stages of presentation, was interviewed to add to the perspective of the film, creating a very “he said, she said” atmosphere, while simultaneously keeping its dramatic, edgy tone. What results is an easily accessible glimpse into the art world and an easily enjoyable film for those who may not have known any of the goings-on that the documentary addresses.

“The Lost Leonardo” will reach the big screen at Midtown Cinema in September. Don’t miss this wild journey of a film.

Midtown Cinema is located at 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit


Special Events

At Midtown Cinema


Down in Front! presents

“Troll 2” (1990)

Friday, Sept. 10, 9:30 p.m.


3rd in the Burg

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975)

Friday, Sept. 17, 9:30 p.m.


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