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Penguin Random House OMNI Drop-ins March 2019

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The Last Leonardo
The Secret Lives of the World's Most Expensive Painting
By (author): Ben Lewis
9781984819253 Hardcover English General Trade ART / History / Renaissance Jun 25, 2019
$37.00 CAD
Active 6.4 x 9.5 x 1 in 384 pages 16-PP COLOR PHOTO INSERT Ballantine Ballantine Books
An epic quest exposes hidden truths about Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, the recently discovered masterpiece that sold for $450 million—and might not be the real thing.

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 artifact, 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.

Story Locale: Italy, United Kingdom, Monaco, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Russia, France, Germany, the United States (New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Cleveland).

NEW INFORMATION: Lewis’s singular, extensive search in archives throughout the US and Europe—supported by interviews with experts—has uncovered startling, controversial, never-before-revealed truths about the provenance of the painting.

NEWSWORTHY TOPIC: The dazzling price of $450M captured the interest of art fanatics and the general public alike, stoking debate about the painting’s quality, authenticity and checkered history.

PERENNIALLY POPULAR ARTIST: Art history’s favorite polymath, Leonardo Da Vinci perennially captures readers’ imaginations from How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci to Walter Isaacson’s bestselling mega-biography Leonardo Da Vinci.

AN ADVENTURE FOR THE ARMCHAIR TRAVELER: An intrepid explorer of history a la Indiana Jones, Lewis takes the reader on a wild ride, as he follows the footsteps of the painting over five centuries and crossing Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and the United States.


Ben Lewis is an art critic, author, documentary filmmaker, and visiting fellow of the Warburg Institute in London. He has written widely about art and culture for the international press including The Times, The Telegraph, London Evening Standard, The Observer, Prospect Magazine, Libération, and Die Welt. His award-winning documentary films include The Beatles, Hippies and Hells Angels: Inside the Crazy World of Apple; Google and the World Brain; Poor Us: An Animated History of Poverty; The Great Contemporary Art Bubble; Art Safari; and Brancusi: Monk of Modernism. Ben has an MA in history and art history from Trinity College/Cambridge University, and he studied at the Freie Universität in Berlin.

Author Residence: London, UK

Author Hometown: London, UK

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“A richly detailed mystery…As Lewis chronicles the quest to attribute the painting to [Leonardo] da Vinci, he uncovers an astoundingly dysfunctional world of museums, galleries, auction houses, collectors—a Russian oligarch and a Saudi prince among them—and unscrupulous middlemen, a world plagued by mistrust, suspicion, and the irresistible lure of financial rewards. Art, greed, and stealth make for a lively tale of intrigue.”Kirkus Reviews

“As the art historian and critic 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.” Michael Prodger, The Sunday Times

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