A Renaissance painting mystery, and the return of a romantic comedy


Playing at the M.V. Film Center on Thursday, Sept. 30, is “The Lost Leonardo,” a documentary detective story that will intrigue far more viewers than art historians. Also playing will be the romantic comedy of sorts, “My Donkey, My Lover and I,” returning from the International Film Festival.

Directed by Dutch filmmaker Andreas Koefoed, “The Lost Leonardo” takes you on a magical mystery tour about Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.” The catch is the listener can’t be sure the painting is genuine. Divided into three sections, the film starts with Part 1, The Art Game. The art game is about the discovery of a sleeper hunter, Alexander Parish, and his financial partner Robert Simon.

Sleeper hunters are members of the art world in search of undervalued or misidentified paintings. In 2005, the two found what looks like a lost painting of Leonardo da Vinci. They buy it for $1,175 from a New Orleans auctioneer. To confirm that it is in fact da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” Christ as savior of the world, they send it to Dianne Modestini, an art restorer. After removing the varnish, and the overpainting, Modestini finds a repainted finger and a change in the lip, both signs the painting is authentic.

Part II is called the Money Game, and the film describes how the painting moves to an increased sale of $83 million in 2013. “Salvator Mundi” travels next to the National Gallery in London, where it undergoes additional authentication by a team of Leonardo scholars, then moves to the Louvre in Paris. “Salvator Mundi” becomes less a work of art and more a matter of how much it can sell for. As Koefoed says, “Everybody wanted it to be a Leonardo, and perhaps it is a Leonardo … This is simply a matter of economics when you boil down to it. And greed. And basic human foibles. Money.”

The viewer learns about two art world individuals who figure into the mix. Yves Bouvier is a Swiss art dealer, and Dimitri Rybolovlev, a Russian billionaire oligarch who bought art from Bouvier, including the “Salvator Mundi.” Bouvier also owned a series of warehouses known as freeports, where the wealthy could store their paintings and sell them without being taxed because they were listed as in transit.

For more information about the M.V. Film Center and what’s screening there, visit mvfilmsociety.com.