The Discovery & Restoration of Leonardo da Vinci’s Long-Lost Painting “Salvator Mundi” | Robb Report


(soft choir music) – And so, ladies and gentlemen, we move to the Leonardo Da
Vinci, the Salvator Mundi, the masterpiece by Leonardo
of Christ the savior, previously in the collections
of three kings of England. (soaring instrumental music) – [Auctioneer] Who will give me 120? 130 million, 140 million is bid. At 140 million. – I always thought it would be the most expensive work of art ever sold. It’s incredible and unbelievably rare. Nothing conjures with
the name of Leonardo. We had tens of thousands of
people on three continents line up for hours in some cases, and people were tremendously
excited to see it. – I had a relationship
with the Salvator Mundi, and he had one with me. This was an incredibly powerful image, and it was like nothing
that I’ve ever worked on and I believe like nothing
that’s ever been painted. I’ve known Robert Simon
for a very long time, and Robert had purchased the painting. Some time, I think it
was in April of 2005, he called and asked if he
could bring a picture over that he had just purchased. And I asked Bob if he wanted
me to go ahead and clean it. It had very recent kind
of sticky varnish on it and some sloppy retouching
that also looked quite recent. – It was heavily overpainted, and it was still thought to be a copy, and it was sold for a
couple thousand dollars at an estate sale in Louisiana. It was found by a man named Alex Parish who then sold a share
of it to Robert Simon who is a very distinguished authority on Italian Renaissance paintings. Thought he must be crazy
when he said he thought he might have found a Leonardo Da Vinci, and they started having it cleaned, and at that point the quality of it really began to come through,
and they got quite excited and they brought in Dianne Modestini, who’s a very distinguished
restorer in New York. – I was not thinking,
“This is by Leonardo.” I was just concentrating
on what had to be done to make the picture legible, not to lose any of the original. It just didn’t enter my mind. It probably would have interfered with my ability and my
freedom to work on it and to develop kind of a
working relationship with it. We noticed that the panel
itself had a very large crack that ran the whole length of
the panel from top to bottom. It was a curve that went
right around the side of the Salvator Mundi’s head. And that was a kind of
horrifying thing to discover. The other parts of the painting
were preserved perfectly. – I had already been hearing rumors from Leonardo scholars who had seen it who were sort of hinting that they’d seen this kind of amazing thing. A consensus developed over time that this was, really
was this lost original that had been thought to have
disappeared for centuries. By the time he paints it around 1500, Leonardo is almost 50. He is the most famous artist in the world. There is an assumption
that it must have been for a very important patron. He used very, very precious materials, and he finishes it, which
he doesn’t do that often. He starts a lot and
abandons it along the way, but he finishes this. First absolutely known history of it is about a hundred years later when it’s in the collection
of Charles I of England. He dies hugely in debt,
and the Crown decides to give away much of his art collection in repayment of his debts. It’s given to a mason, it
would be the equivalent of an architect or a
builder, named John Stone in repayment for this debt. And nine years later when
the monarchy is restored and Charles II becomes king,
Parliament passes an act that says basically, “All
you people who’ve had debts “from the king and got stuff
from us, give it back.” And so it enters the
collection of Charles II. It then descends to his younger brother and successor, James II. His mistress is a woman
named Catherine Sedley, and they have a child together, and she inherits it from him. And then she marries the
First Duke of Buckingham who builds Buckingham
House, which eventually by their heirs is sold and
is now Buckingham Palace. And when the house is sold to the crown, the contents of it are sold
off at an auction in 1763. And at that point it just
completely disappears. We have no idea what happened. It’s sold as by Leonardo
but for a very small amount of money, and so it’s probable that even by that point the painting had been quite heavily overpainted. – I worked on it off
and on for five years. The cleaning was really
not particularly revelatory because the head had been
completely repainted. There was a beard. It looks quite grotesque. Wherever there were damages they just made this kind of red beard. But all of that was done, I don’t know, in the not-so-distant past,
and it came off very easily. – [Auctioneer] 286 million,
will you give me 290? I thought so. (crowd gasps) 300 million. – From 1763 we have no
idea from that point on what happens to it. Until the end of the 19th Century when it reappears and it’s sold to a very eminent British
collector, Francis Cook. But it’s sold as a copy
or a follower of Leonardo, and you can see it’s heavily overpainted. It was sort of just made
to look more masculine. I think it was probably
seen as more fitting by the 19th Century. And it remains in the Cook collection where nobody pays much
attention to it until 1958 when it’s sold at Sotheby’s
in London for 45 pounds. It’s bought by an American we think, and it ends up in collections in America until 2005 when it’s sold for, again, a very, very small amount of money as a copy in Louisiana. – It wasn’t until I was
at the very, very end of the restoration and
there was one retouch around the mouth which
was extremely difficult. I had a book about
technical investigations of the Mona Lisa, detailed reproductions, and one was just of the Mona Lisa’s mouth, so I actually cut the page out of the book and tacked it to my easel. That was the moment when
I had to say to myself, “Of course it’s by Leonardo because “nobody else paints this way.” This picture is a paradigm of everything that he knew technically about painting and much of what he thought about time, eternity, and the cosmos. It wasn’t just a portrait of Jesus Christ painted for the king. This was something that
became very important to him. – For those of you following online, you may not have heard it. The bid was 350, was
called on the telephone at 350 million the
Leonardo Salvator Mundi. – [Dianne] The fact that it went for so much money will protect it. – 370 million dollars,
ladies and gentlemen. 400 million. (crowd gasps) – I only care about it being protected and it being one of the
most important expressions in paint that Leonardo
left us about his thinking. So the price doesn’t matter. – In my dreams it’s sort of almost exactly what I thought it would sell for. I always thought it would
make the biggest price ever. So it was a trophy of the greatest rarity. – Leonardo Salvator Mundi
selling here at Christie’s. 400 million dollars is the
bid, and the piece is sold. (crowd cheers and applauds)

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