Skip to main content

Susquehanna Life

Lost Da Vinci Masterpiece Rediscovered

Jan 30, 2018 11:35AM ● By Erica Shames

On November 15, 2017, the auction hammer dropped and a painting sold for the staggering price of 450 million dollars, making it the world’s most expensive work of art. What artist could command such a price? Simple, Leonardo da Vinci. However, ascribing the artist's name to the painting, Salvator Mundi (‘Savior of the World’), was not as easy as verifying a signature. It took a team of investigators to determine the painting was in fact by Leonardo himself.

Da Vinci was a prolific artist whose career spanned almost seven decades of the Italian Renaissance. While he produced numerous notebooks and drawings and is known for inventive breakthroughs, scholars generally agree that he only completed 20 paintings during his lifetime. Of those 20, 15 survived history to be enjoyed today. With the addition of Salvator Mundi, that number is now 16. This great discovery is the find of lifetime and the price for the painting certainly reflects its significance, yet it doesn’t come without controversy.

The authenticity of the painting is still questioned by some in the art world.  In fact, many professionals believe the painting was completed by followers of da Vinci, not by the master himself. Some of the most convincing evidence attributing the painting as a genuine Leonardo da Vinci came not from the research or opinion of a well-respected art historian; instead, from a small lab at the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. At the helm of this research was Dianne Modestini, Senior Research Fellow and Painting Conservator for the Samuel H. Kress Program. From her careful examinations and methodical cleaning and preservation, scholars were able to assign Salvator Mundi as the last surviving painting by da Vinci in private hands.

Dianne Modestini will be at Bucknell University March 1st to deliver this year’s Samek Distinguished Lecture. She will be speaking about conserving Salvator Mundi, and will reveal the details of her work which led to the conclusion that the painting is an original da Vinci. The talk will take place at 6 p.m. in the Gallery Forum; 2nd Floor, Elaine Langone Center and is free and open to the public. Following the talk there will be a reception in the Samek Art Museum.

For more information, contact Emily Izer, Public Programs & Outreach Manager at (570) 577-3981 or

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Susquehanna Life's free newsletter to stay informed