The Last Leonardo by Ben  Lewis
(HarperCollins, 2019)

The Last Leonardo

by Ben Lewis

500 years after the death of Leonardo Da Vinci, Ben Lewis considers the unrivalled legacy of his art through an original biography of the ‘Salvator Mundi’ (Saviour of the World) – the lost Da Vinci painting.

In 2017, Leonardo da Vinci’s small oil painting, the Salvator Mundi was sold at auction for $450m. In the words of its discoverer, the image of Christ as saviour of the world is ‘the rarest thing on the planet by the greatest human being who ever lived’. Its dazzling price also makes it the world’s most expensive painting.

For two centuries art dealers had searched in vain for the Holy Grail of art history: a portrait of Christ as the Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci. Many similar paintings of greatly varying quality had been executed by Leonardo’s assistants in the first half of the sixteenth century. But where was the original by the master himself?

In November 2017, Christie’s auction house announced they had it. But did they? The Last Leonardo tells a thrilling tale of a spellbinding icon invested with the power to make or break the reputations of scholars, billionaires, kings and sheikhs. Lewis takes us to Leonardo’s studio in Renaissance Italy; to the court of Charles I and the English Civil War; to Holland, Moscow and Louisiana; to the galleries, salerooms and restorer’s workshop as the painting slowly, painstakingly, emerged from obscurity. The vicissitudes of the highly secretive art market are charted across five centuries. It is a twisting tale of geniuses and oligarchs, double-crossings and disappearances, where we’re never quite certain what to believe. Above all, it is an adventure story about the search for lost treasure, and a quest for the truth.


The story of the world’s most expensive painting is narrated with great gusto and formidably researched detail ”
- The Guardian
As Ben Lewis shows in his forensically detailed and gripping investigation into the history, discovery and sales of the painting, establishing the truth is like nailing down jelly.”
- The Sunday Times
Ben Lewis [has] put together a deliciously detailed, satisfying book, that is simultaneously a call for change.”
- The Irish Times
Lewis does not spare the reader the nauseating details of the painting’s exploitation as cash cow by auction houses, fig leaf over human rights abuses in oil-rich states or instrument of tax evasion for the super-rich. Anyone who still holds that art might serve some humbler purpose will feel compelled to throw this book across the room (this is to the credit, to be clear, of its author).”
- The Art Review