Back to top

Detecting da Vinci

Cover of The Last Leonardo: The Sec
A review of The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting by Ben Lewis

In 2017 a painting, the Salvator Mundi, was sold at auction for $450 million. The question remains, was it painted by Leonardo da Vinci?

Ben Lewis investigates a real life art mystery, tracing the possible life of the painting sold and along the way he takes the reader on a tour behind the scenes of art galleries, the high end art market, and much more. An interesting facet is Lewis' portrayal of Leonardo’s studio which was that like many of his contemporaries. It was a school with many apprentices who used Leonardo’s sketches and teachings to paint similar works. Some with and some without actual brush strokes by the master and who can say after all this time and deterioration of the few remaining pictures attributed to Leonardo which were done by him or by apprentices in his studio. Amazingly enough, apparently it is the feel or reaction to the painting that even experts use in their reviews, so a subtle “I know what I like” aspect of museum collections that surprised me. And then there is restoration…or is it recreation? This is a highly readable and fascinating look at our art culture and a good companion read to Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci in that it looks only at one painting in particular. Though author Ben Lewis does not seem to be swayed as much by Leonardo’s genius as Walter Isaacson who put the emphasis on Leonardo as a Renaissance man who could apparently do just about anything but rarely completed any of it.

Dec 30, 2019