Andreas Koefoed’s The Lost Leonardo (2021) frames the mysteries and scandals surrounding the Salvator Mundi like a true crime documentary. It’s a slick film with a pointed messaging. Koefoed answers questions with more specific questions till all that is left is the impression that we are all in some way or another complicit in the narrative of this infamous painting.
Telling this story of fraud, capitalism, greed and corruption in the mode of a true crime documentary has its advantages. Firstly it allows the filmmakers to hold an audience’s interest in a subject and a world that is relatively foreign to most viewers. Secondly it allows for a tighter economy of narrative so the film can leap from one major development to the next. Mostly though this format is intrinsically more familiar so its machinations prove more affective and sensational.
The problem with this approach is that the audience is denied any expert testimony or analysis of the painting in question. Time and again the viewer is shown x-rays and multi-spectral analyses of the Salvator Mundi. And then time and again the opportunity for the filmmakers to show us how to interpret these images passes by. Eventually this conundrum forms a kind of void at the heart of the picture that diminishes its overall impact.
The Lost Leonardo, while certainly entertaining, doesn’t amount to much more than some finger wagging from the filmmakers. Even the title and the trailer are somewhat misleading since it is commonly known where the painting is housed. Personally I much preferred Orson Welles’ skewering of the fine art world in his portrait of Elmyr de Hory that makes up the middle third of his F For Fake (1973).