The Truth About The Lost Leonardo’s Dianne Modestini

Leonardo Da Vinci was many things — an architect, engineer, draftsman, sculptor, and painter. The Renaissance genius is perhaps most known for his “Mona Lisa” painting but today, there are fewer than 20 surviving Da Vinci paintings deemed authentic (via Britannica). One of the works said to be attributed to Da Vinci is the “Salvator Mundi,” a depiction of Jesus Christ. There is controversy, however, about whether the painting was indeed executed by Da Vinci himself, and it’s the subject of the new Sony Pictures documentary titled “The Lost Leonardo”.

The film tells the story of the “Salvator Mundi” and how it was sold at $450 million — the most expensive sale of a painting ever. The painting was purchased for $1,175 at an auction house and was sent for restoration, per Sony Classics. “The Lost Leonardo” features interviews with experts and those involved with the painting, and though some of them believe the “Salvator Mundi” is an authentic piece, others think otherwise. One of those who believe the painting was done by Leonardo Da Vinci is Dianne Modestini, a restorer who worked on the piece for several years.

Dianne Modestini's background

Dianne Modestini is a world-renowned restorer, conservator, and expert on 19th-century paintings. She graduated with a degree in Art History from Columbia University and enrolled in further studies afterward. By 1973, Modestini had obtained her Master’s and Certificate of Advanced Study in Art Conservation in New York, per Salvator Mundi Revisited. The Metropolitan Museum of Art hired Dianne as an Assistant Conservator of Paintings and was responsible for paintings from various time periods. For years, Dianne Modestini also served as an educator at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. She taught students about European painting techniques, paying particular attention to changes that appear in the painting over time, as well as those brought about by restoration techniques.

The “Salvator Mundi” painting was brought to Modestini for restoration in 2005. The painting sat in her New York apartment while she worked on restoring it until 2017. She appears in “The Lost Leonardo” as a supporter of the painting’s authenticity as an original Da Vinci.

Dianne Modestini's process and conclusion

When “Salvator Mundi” initially came to Modestini, the first step of the process was to clean the surface where substances have accumulated on the top layer. The painting also had a few cracks, which Modestini repaired in a year. Then came the restoration process where she had to retouch damaged areas of the image. “I wanted to be sure that none of my restorations had impinged on the original, that I had not done too much,” she told CNN in an interview.

Dianne Modestini wrote about the supporting facts on her belief of the painting’s authenticity in an essay titled “The Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci Rediscovered: History, Technique and Condition” per Authentication in Art. In it Modestini detailed the characteristics of the painting and details pointing to it being a Da Vinci original.

“Salvator Mundi” sold for a whopping $450 million at a Christie’s auction in 2017. At that time, the buyer was not disclosed but it was later revealed that Saudi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible for the purchase (via Daily Mail).

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