The Last Leonardo
An epic quest exposes hidden truths about Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi, the recently discovered masterpiece that sold for $450 million—and might not be the real thing.For two centuries, art dealers and historians searched in vain for the Holy Grail of art history: a portrait of Christ as the Salvator Mundi ("Savior of the World") by Leonardo da Vinci. At last, in 2005 a compelling candidate was discovered by a small-time Old Masters dealer at a second-rate auction house in New Orleans. After a six-year restoration, an exhibition at the National Gallery in London, and the help of canny Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, the painting was sold to the news-making Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. After the very-public fallout between Rybolovlev and Bouvier, the painting went on to make headlines again in 2017 as the most expensive painting ever sold when a proxy of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman won the masterwork at a Christie's auction for $450 million. But controversy still surrounds the artwork: Did the auction house—and the art dealers, curators, and art historians behind this find--actually have the right painting, or is there another? Did Leonardo even paint a Salvator Mundi? Some scholars argue he was only occasionally painting at the time the work is dated. Was the painting restored to such an extent that it became a Leonardo, though it was in fact the work of his apprentices? In short: Is it the genuine artifact, the result of a frenzied marketing genius—or perhaps a little of both?In a thriller-like pursuit of the truth, Ben Lewis examines the five-hundred-year Cinderella-story of this painting and, astonishingly, turns up the smoking guns, including the burnt initials of ownership by an English king on a different Salvator Mundi and the identity of the American family who owned the painting for some of its missing decades. Through this journey, we come to see how the global art market evolved to what it is today, and we are left to ask ourselves what art means to humanity, both past and present.

The Last Leonardo Details

TitleThe Last Leonardo
Author
ReleaseJun 25th, 2019
PublisherBallantine Books
ISBN-139781984819253
Rating
GenreArt, History, Nonfiction, Art History

The Last Leonardo Review

  • Sue
    January 1, 1970
    The Last Leonardo is an exhaustive look at one painting, Salvator Mundi, thought to be a previously unacknowledged original by Leonardo da Vinci. In this detailed “life of” the painting, Lewis presents a useful biography of Leonardo along with background on his painting techniques over time and his “school,” the artists who learned from and worked with him. Lewis also follows Leonardo’s travels from city to city as he moves from the favor of one leader to another. All of the above information is The Last Leonardo is an exhaustive look at one painting, Salvator Mundi, thought to be a previously unacknowledged original by Leonardo da Vinci. In this detailed “life of” the painting, Lewis presents a useful biography of Leonardo along with background on his painting techniques over time and his “school,” the artists who learned from and worked with him. Lewis also follows Leonardo’s travels from city to city as he moves from the favor of one leader to another. All of the above information is important in the attempts that were made in the years between ca 2005 and 2012 to create a provenance for the Salvator Mundi that would eventually be auctioned at an incredible price. But the question was...did Leonardo paint this particular Salvator Mundi out of the many that are held in various collections around the world.To answer that question, Lewis defines exactly what a provenance is and then takes the reader on a long journey through the world of Leonardo, the world of the Masters, how Leonardo’s school functioned, how art was collected between the 16th and 21st centuries. There is so much here of art itself, history, culture, philosophy. When we reach the late 20th century, we encounter a new world of collecting art as investment and tax dodge. (There are names mentioned I didn’t expect to see in this particular book.)Ah! I see I have neglected the field of restoration. That too has a lot to say about this painting. I must admit I had no idea the varying degrees of restoration that exist on well known masterpieces (not that specifics are given, but hints tell so much.)So what happened to Salvator Mundi? You can google the auction to find what it sold for. Is it a Leonardo? You really should read this book to learn the intricate answer. If you are interested in art, art history, cultural history, I believe you will enjoy and appreciate this book.A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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  • Netta
    January 1, 1970
    If this is the only book about Leonardo da Vinci that you ever read, don’t waste your time. You’d be lost in the crazy, shadowy world of those who love Leonardo, study Leonardo and dare to write about him, eliminating myths and lies (though more often creating them). If you already know who Leonardo was and why there’s so much fuss around him, and you want to get a glimpse of the world surrounding him and his myth, go for it. Ben Lewis had a mammoth task to place into context the world’s most ex If this is the only book about Leonardo da Vinci that you ever read, don’t waste your time. You’d be lost in the crazy, shadowy world of those who love Leonardo, study Leonardo and dare to write about him, eliminating myths and lies (though more often creating them). If you already know who Leonardo was and why there’s so much fuss around him, and you want to get a glimpse of the world surrounding him and his myth, go for it. Ben Lewis had a mammoth task to place into context the world’s most expensive painting - Salvator Mundi, which is, Leonardo or not, a work of art with truly impressive, Dan Brown worth (is that a compliment anyway?) provenance. And he did better than Dan Brown, that’s for sure. Being a documentary film-maker and art critic, Ben Lewis did his best to make his investigation both engaging and profound. He talked to many Leonardists who offered their opinions, stories and ideas, and he let their voices shape the polyphonic narrative, hence allowing himself to be more or less neutral. The book is abundance of names, facts, notes, and, more important, stories, because Salvator Mundi Is much more than just a painting or “a masterpiece”, more than a scandalous case or the art world sensation. It’s a story of the master standing in front of it with a brush, thinking about his next brushstroke; of a thing which was once created by one of the greatest men of his time and then owned by the powerful, the rich, the cunning and the naïve. Do we really want to know if this is true?
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  • megan
    January 1, 1970
    Not sure who the intended audience was for this book, which would have benefitted from more rigorous editing. It explains basic art world concepts so is clearly not intended for specialists, yet gets into minutia relevant to only select art historians, so doesn't seem like a piece for general readers, either. I finished reading because it was in my possession but didn't enjoy it, and say that as an art historian who typically devours art-related trade books with enthusiasm.
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  • Claudia
    January 1, 1970
    Sold for $450 million dollars at auction in 2017, this version of Salvator Mundi set a new high price for a piece of artwork. Yet controversial because experts can not agree if it was actually created by Leonardo da Vinci, one of his apprentices or just an unknown artist from the early to mid-1500's. Also, the amount of restoration that was necessarily done to this heavily damaged piece makes some feel it was more of the restorer's work rather than the Italian legend.The author shifts between th Sold for $450 million dollars at auction in 2017, this version of Salvator Mundi set a new high price for a piece of artwork. Yet controversial because experts can not agree if it was actually created by Leonardo da Vinci, one of his apprentices or just an unknown artist from the early to mid-1500's. Also, the amount of restoration that was necessarily done to this heavily damaged piece makes some feel it was more of the restorer's work rather than the Italian legend.The author shifts between the modern dealers, the restoration staff as well as the historians researching the provenance (or history) and to Leonardo's life, travels and questions. All the controversies surrounding it was well as his own personal investigation into the possible ownership between the late 1950' until Robert Simon purchased it 2005.Lewis also goes into the murky world of the art market where artwork is sold tax-free as it is moved between vaults at the Geneva Freeport or it's corresponding alternative facilities in Singapore and Luxembourg. The massive scandal centering about Yves Bouvier and the defrauding of Dmitry Rybolovlev (reportedly one of the Salvator Mundi's owners).Also there is a look into the field of art restoration - how damaged most of the great artworks of the world currently are but to actually go through 'cleaning' or removal of the deteriorating and color-changing varnish these Old Masters' used would make those world-renown pieces unrecognizable.The latest owner is supposedly the heir to Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. The current location of the painting is unknown since its initial showing in the Louvre Abu Dhabi was cancelled. It is suspected to stored in a vault at the Geneva Freeport, Switzerland.As for my personal opinion - it may be a product of Leonard's workshop using some cartoons created by the Master himself. He may have even put brush to the work, cleaning or clarifying here and there. Was it completely painted by Leonardo? Not in my opinion but I certainly am not an expert by a long shot. But this literary work certainly gives insight in an industry that is as secretive as the bidders that purchase these assets. And that is a sad part - the beauty of the artwork is completely overwhelmed by its investment potential.2019-102
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  • Zohar - ManOfLaBook.com
    January 1, 1970
    For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: http://www.ManOfLaBook.comThe Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting by Ben Lewis is a non-fiction book about Leonardo da Vinci’s small oil painting the Salvator Mundi, sold at auction for $450 million. Mr. Lewis in an author, documentary filmmaker and an art critic.This book popped up on my reading radar a day or two after the famous Sotheby’s auction where the painting the Salvator Mundi, attributed to Leonardo da For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: http://www.ManOfLaBook.comThe Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting by Ben Lewis is a non-fiction book about Leonardo da Vinci’s small oil painting the Salvator Mundi, sold at auction for $450 million. Mr. Lewis in an author, documentary filmmaker and an art critic.This book popped up on my reading radar a day or two after the famous Sotheby’s auction where the painting the Salvator Mundi, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci sold for a record amount of $450 million. Frankly, I don’t see it – but what do I know.The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting by Ben Lewis goes to tell about the world of obscene art prices that is invisible to a layman like myself. The fine art culture, where works are used for joy, investments, risk, park money, or bragging rights.Mr. Lewis raises questions about the backstory and authenticity of the painting, while informing the reader about its historical status. At the crux of the matter is whether or not the painting is actually by the famous Renaissance master, or by someone in his shop. Experts must gather evidence, use detective skills, and their in depth knowledge of art, art history, and painting personality of the artist involved. There is, of course, the matter of an unknown variable which many art experts believe distinguish them from the rest , they can simply “tell” if a masterpiece can be attributed to a certain master.But rest assured, it gets much more complicated, as the author states “attributions to Leonardo can be driven by personal connections, professional networks and rivalries, academic ambitions, and financial interests”. While not surprising, it’s mind blowing that this type of pettiness (for lack of a better word) plays a part in such an analysis that could make an object’s value move in the millions of dollars.This book is well written, expertly researched, and very informative. As I mentioned, I’m not much an a fine art connoisseur, but the narrative held my interest from beginning to end.
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  • Mary Rose
    January 1, 1970
    My full review can be found on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK4G7...The Last Leonardo is a refreshing look at one of the most curious works of art that has surfaced in the art market lately. This was not my first encounter with the Salvator Mundi, as I worked as an art dealer and followed the case closely when it was being shopped around. Later, in 2017 when it broke the record for the most expensive painting ever sold, I had some serious doubts. The book is divided into roughly My full review can be found on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK4G7...The Last Leonardo is a refreshing look at one of the most curious works of art that has surfaced in the art market lately. This was not my first encounter with the Salvator Mundi, as I worked as an art dealer and followed the case closely when it was being shopped around. Later, in 2017 when it broke the record for the most expensive painting ever sold, I had some serious doubts. The book is divided into roughly three intertwining sections. One is a biography of Leonardo Da Vinci. This is a fairly general biography that doesn't add much new but does give the uninitiated a better idea of who Leonardo Da Vinci was and why he has become almost an archetypal artistic genius. Another follows the art dealer Robert Simon in the early 2000s as he attempts to research, restore (with the help of Dianne Modestini) and sell the Salvator Mundi. The last section follows the Salvator Mundi's provenance over the course of the nearly five hundred years from the time it was produced until now.Of these three sections, I think many people would find this third section the most tedious. Lewis is very thorough in explaining how old masters were "restored" (or overpainted), cropped, destroyed, re-attributed, and lost over the course of centuries. However, I thought it was absolutely necessary to support the most interesting part of the book: Ben Lewis poking holes in the sketchy attribution and even sketchier provenance of the Salvator Mundi.This book would be my recommendation for anyone who is interested in learning more about the Salvator Mundi as this book gives the most detailed history of the painting and the mystery surrounding it that I have read. Further, I think Ben Lewis has a great sense of humor and a great sense of drama, which makes parts of this novel read like a gripping true crime tale. It was a joy to read.
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  • Jquick99
    January 1, 1970
    I would have liked this so much more if it was edited down about half. I’m very interested in the topic, but really thought it dragged down in telling the back story. There’s also repeating of information which didn’t help. I also don’t like it when the author involves himself into the story, and wish this was edited out.And, maybe I missed this, but I had to look up what Salvator Mundi meant, since it seems there’s a bunch of pictures with this name (Latin for 'Savior of the World'). With all t I would have liked this so much more if it was edited down about half. I’m very interested in the topic, but really thought it dragged down in telling the back story. There’s also repeating of information which didn’t help. I also don’t like it when the author involves himself into the story, and wish this was edited out.And, maybe I missed this, but I had to look up what Salvator Mundi meant, since it seems there’s a bunch of pictures with this name (Latin for 'Savior of the World'). With all the minutiae in the book, why isn’t this explained/defined?
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  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating insight into the history of art dealing through the frame of the story of the Salvator Mundi. Full of interesting historical events and commentary on the corrupt relationships between dealers, museums and owners. Extraordinary.
  • Onceinabluemoon
    January 1, 1970
    Interesting bit of art history, listened to audio and was only luke warm even though I normally would devour books like this. I was obsessed with the British pronunciation of renaissance, tried as I might could not perfect it, funny how the mind works when listening with headsets...
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  • Ximena Apisdorf
    January 1, 1970
    Amazing reading
  • Heather Bennett
    January 1, 1970
    The Last Leonardo is a interesting and informative book on the most expensive painting and the story behind it. Ben Lewis has done his research and the book is well written.
  • Dawn Myers
    January 1, 1970
    Amazing research.
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