Julianne Moore Will Play the Art Restorer Who Fixed Up ‘Salvator Mundi’ in a New TV Series

The show is based on the popular 2021 documentary, “The Lost Leonardo.”

Julianne Moore at the 77th annual Cannes Film Festival in 2024 in Cannes, France. Photo: Marc Piasecki/FilmMagic.

An auction that made global headlines. A contentious lawsuit. A documentary film. Now, a TV series will trace the eventful story of Salvator Mundi, the painting billed as being by Leonardo da Vinci, which sold for $450.3 million at Christie’s New York in 2017, making it the priciest item ever sold at auction. 

Famed actress Julianne Moore will play Dianne Modestini, the conservator who worked on the painting and was one of those who claimed with certainty that it was by the hand of the Renaissance master, Deadline reported. Based on the 2021 documentary The Lost Leonardo, directed by Andreas Koefoed and distributed by Sony Pictures, the series will be directed by the duo of John Requa and Glenn Ficara, who previously worked with Moore on the 2011 feature film Crazy, Stupid, Love. Moore, who has racked up an Academy Award as well as Golden Globes and Emmys, will also be executive producer. 

The project is in development with Studiocanal, the Picture Company, Entertainment 360, and Requa and Ficara’s Zaftig Films.

Salvator Mundi before it is auctioned at Christies. Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images.

Salvator Mundi before it was auctioned at Christies. Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images.

It’s not Moore’s first time in an art-world role. She was beloved as Maude Lebowski in the Coen Brothers’ cult favorite The Big Lebowski (1998), as well as playing painter Marian Wyman in Robert Altman’s 1993 film Short Cuts. Less successful was Surviving Picasso (1966), in which she played Dora Maar opposite Anthony Hopkins as the Spaniard.

The series will tell the painting’s convoluted history, beginning when art dealer Alexander Parrish came upon it for sale at a New Orleans auction house in 2005; he and fellow-dealer Robert Simon bought the panel, identified as being “after Leonardo,” for just $1,500. Aware that the painting had been damaged and clumsily restored, they engaged Modestini to repair it. She, too, became convinced that it was a signature Leonardo work when she noticed details similar to the Mona Lisa

Dianne Modestini restored the Salvator Mundi and stands by her belief it is an authentic Leonardo. Film still from The Lost Leonardo. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

Dianne Modestini restored the Salvator Mundi and stands by her belief it is an authentic Leonardo. Film still from The Lost Leonardo. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

In a publicity stunt, the auctioneer inserted the painting into a contemporary art sale; ironically, some of the restoration work the painting was subject to along the way put it under scrutiny. “The joke circulating around the contemporary art world,” Artnet News contributor Kenny Schachter said, was that that was because “90 percent of it had been painted in the last 10 years.”

Others also remained unconvinced of the painting’s authenticity. In the documentary, Frank Zöllner, a Leonardo scholar in Germany, said that the best parts of the painting were actually done by Modestini. “I can’t paint like Leonardo,” Modestini countered. “It’s very flattering, but it’s absurd.”

While the buyer has never been definitively identified, it is widely believed that it was Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

The painting would also be at the centerpiece of a long-running art world lawsuit by Russian collector Dmitry Rybolovlev against Swiss freeport magnate Yves Bouvier. Bouvier bought the painting from Parrish and Simon for $83 million and sold it the same day to the Russian for $127.5 million—a $44.5 million markup. The Russian would claim that Bouvier had misrepresented himself as the Russian’s agent, not as a dealer. The suit also accused Sotheby’s, which brokered the sale, of fraud; the auction house was cleared of the charges in January.

Rybolovlev settled the suit against Bouvier confidentially but made out okay in the end, selling the painting for the legendary $450.3 million.

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