The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting

The Last Leonardo

by Ben Lewis

14 April, 2019

in Book, Last Leonardo

The Last Leonardo

by Ben Lewis

14 April, 2019

in Book, Last Leonardo


My new book about the Salvator Mundi is published on April 16th by Harper Collins in the UK.

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 artefact, 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. Amazon Link



“Secrets of the World’s Most Expensive Painting Revealed, Charles Nicholl, The Guardian, June 2019

The Times front-page, April 2019

“A Question of Attribution: doubts over who painted Salvator Mundi highlight the opacity of the Art Market, Times Leader column

Last Leonardo book extract published in The Times Saturday Magazine

“The Savoir of the Art Market”, Cammy Brothers, Wall Street Journal, August 2019

“5 Things about Your book”, interview with me by John Williams in The New York Times, July 2019

The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World's Most Expensive Painting 4

“Decoding the Da Vinci,” Michael Prodger, Sunday Times, April 2019

Book Review by David Sandelson, The Times, April 2019

Review by Marcus Berkmann, Mail on Sunday, July 2019

Review by Ben Eastham, Art Review, July 2019

“Selling a Leonardo with Oomph”, Jackdaw, July/August 2019

“The Enduring Delight and Intrigue of Leonardo da Vinci, review by Bruce Boucher, Financial Times, August 2019

Review, The Week, May 2019

Evening Standard Summer Reading

Must reads: the best books of the year so far | Culture | The Sunday Times

“The True Da Vinci Code”, Town and Country, March 2019

The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World's Most Expensive Painting 3“Asset Management: Salvator Mundi and the Unreality of the Art Market”, Federico Varese, Times Literary Supplement, August 2019

Robert Simon letter  to TLS, replying to Varese; Reply by me to the letters of Campbell and Kemp in TLS

“A Peece of Christ,” Charles Hope, London Review of Books, December 2019

“Making an Argument for the Value of Art, Irish Times, June 2019

“L’Introvable Vinci”,  Journal du Dimanche, Sept 2019

“Un Christ et des Enigmes”, Le Parisien, Dec 2019

“The Hanging Question, Tortoise Media, October 2019


Hay Festival, The Guardian (I am somewhat misquoted)


CNN: The $450 million question: Where is Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi‘? 16th June 2019.

SRF, Swiss-German Channel ‘Der Letzte Leonardo’ – also broadcast on 3Sat in Germany.