• The Last Leonardo

  • The Secret Lives of the World's Most Expensive Painting
  • By: Ben Lewis
  • Narrated by: Peter Noble
  • Length: 12 hrs and 34 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (151 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

An epic quest exposes hidden truths about Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, therecently discovered masterpiece that sold for $450 million - and might not be the real thing. 

In 2017, Leonardo da Vinci’s small oil painting the Salvator Mundi was sold at auction. In the words of its discoverer, the image of Christ as savior of the world is “the rarest thing on the planet.” Its $450 million sale 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 early 16th 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. Ben Lewis takes us to Leonardo’s studio in Renaissance Italy; to the court of Charles I and the English Civil War; to Amsterdam, Moscow, and New Orleans; 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 six centuries. It is a twisting tale of geniuses and oligarchs, double-crossings and disappearances, in which 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. 

Praise for The Last Leonardo

“The story of the world’s most expensive painting is narrated with great gusto and formidably researched detail in Ben Lewis’s book.... Lewis’s probings of the Salvator’s backstory raise questions about its historical status and visibility, and these lead in turn to the fundamental question of whether the painting is really an autograph work by Leonardo.” (Charles Nicholl, The Guardian

“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)

©2019 Ben Lewis (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Narrator Peter Noble takes the listener deep inside the rarefied world of those who deal in paintings by the Old Masters. Speaking with the erudition of an art history professor lecturing in London's National Gallery, Noble adds to the sense of mystery in this true story." (AudioFile Magazine)

“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)

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What listeners say about The Last Leonardo

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  • Overall
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Definitely makes you think.

This is a very well researched and examination as to the status of Da Vinci's "Salvator Mundo." Due to its length I was concerned it was going to be tedious. It was not. I also felt the narrator did an excellent job.

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Absolutely fascinating, beautifully read aloud

This is a very long book alighting on the known life of DaVinci and of the business of art from his time all the way to the present. Meticulously researched and written with verve and humor this is much more than a delving into a single painting. It’s a treasure trove of art history. Ben Lewis’ voice is like the ocean. You don’t want to stop listening.

2 people found this helpful

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Outstanding book!!! I got a full size picture of SALVATOR MUNDI to study as I read/listened. I have it on Audible and the book..

I could not put it down .
A mystery and a history lesson. I will need to digest the 450 million dollar cost.

2 people found this helpful

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Fascinating story

This is a well told story and the author has clearly done extensive research and is intimate to the art world. Narration is excellent. One of those few books that is difficult to stop one started.

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worth listening to

definitely worth listening to, there were some things that are speculative. if you go listen to Ross King's The last supper you'll hear some things that directly contradicts statements made in this book. and some of the arguments are based off of the vasari's lives of the artists has plenty which isn't true and a lot that may or may not be true. The last Leonardo still had a lot of good information though and enjoyed it.

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Fantastic!!

My top nonfiction book of 2019!! Well researched... well narrated... long live Leonardo.... any maybe just maybe the painting is his.

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Great story and performance

I thought I knew a lot of this story but the author has included so much more. An excellent listen if you are interested in art history and the art business.

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Say Wenceslaus Hollar Again!

This book is wonderful. The story is so unbelievable at times that you are swearing to no one in particular that the painting could not have been by the master’s hand, but insisting that it must be a few chapters later.

I enjoyed the narrator as well. I have been talking about this book so much just so I can imitate Noble saying, “Wenceslaus Hollar.” I did have to go back through portions of the book due to some densely packed but not densely stated periods of possible providence. Just as good the second time around for those sections as the first.

Recommend watching “The Lost Leonardo” documentary as a supplement to this book. I hope the picture makes an appearance again.

Enjoy!

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Did we need the last 15 minutes?

Interesting story and obviously well researched. Not sure we needed Lewis standing on his soap box hence the overall rating. Lose the last bit and it is probably a 3.5. I would be disappointed if this wasn't a buy while on sale.

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Fascinating!

Sick that it is now used by countries as a way to keep their billionaires happy.

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