No Leonardo exhibition would be complete without the age-old speculation over his lost works. Take note, National Gallery
The idea of a lost work of art by Leonardo da Vinci coming to light is gripping. No other artist in history exerts such fascination. But the National Gallery in London is not exactly a sensationalist institution. It is trying to present its Leonardo exhibition this autumn in a sombre, serious way: it was not responsible for this week's story about the inclusion in the show of a rediscovered painting, Salvator Mundi, that will be labelled as a Leonardo. This dramatic revelation came from the painting's owners – and the gallery has confined itself to a terse public statement.
Leonardo da Vinci … lost work … mystery: you can see the museum's worry. It wants visitors to engage with the real Leonardo, not a Da Vinci Code caricature of him. Searches for lost paintings by the artist are big news – so big that they can eclipse his actual, existing works. The quest by Italian researcher Maurizio Seracini for traces of Leonardo's lost wall painting The Battle of Anghiari in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, earned him the nickname "the Da Vinci detective" and got him a citation in Dan Brown's novel. The owners of Salvator Mundi apparently hope for the same glamour to add to their painting's lustre: they are said to be businessmen, so we may soon see the unlikely phenomenon of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci actually coming up for sale.