Fiona Bruce uncovers the story of Leonardo da Vinci. She travels to Florence, Milan, Paris, Warsaw and to New York, where she is given an exclusive preview of a new Leonardo.
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Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the world's
most brilliant and extraordinary men.
He was endlessly curious, searching for answers in everything he did.
We think of him as the ultimate Renaissance man.
He created a new idea of beauty.
He reinvented the art of painting.
From The Last Supper, tragically deteriorating,
but still full of power and drama...
..to the Mona Lisa,
whose mysterious hint of a smile has intrigued generations.
There are perhaps no more than 15 paintings by Leonardo in the world.
They're scattered in different countries...
..believed until now to be all that remains of Leonardo's work.
But in New York,
locked away at a secret address, is a newly discovered painting
by Leonardo, something that hasn't happened for over 100 years.
The picture has never been filmed until now.
It could be worth £125 million.
Is this the discovery of a painting
thought lost for centuries?
Leonardo is a man for whom the word genius could have been invented.
And yet his reputation as an artist
rests on just a handful of paintings.
And some of them were never finished.
How did Leonardo become the most famous painter ever to have lived?
Many people dream at some point in their lives
of discovering a lost masterpiece.
Few allow themselves
to dream of finding a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci.
No artist has a higher reputation. No artist's work
is more highly coveted. But there's so little of it.
I've come to New York to visit a gallery in a secret location.
And in it is a painting that's just been seen by a handful of experts.
If it's genuine, it will be the discovery of a lifetime!
A painting by the greatest old master of them all.
You must be Fiona. Nice to meet you.
Pleased to meet you. Come this way.
'Restorer Dianne Modestini,
'and dealer and art historian Robert Simon
'have been guarding their secret for more than two years'.
Gosh! To be that close to it!
'It's a painting of Christ known as Salvator Mundi,
'or the Saviour of the World'.
-It has got a real presence, hasn't it?
He begins to really dominate the space, and capture your attention.
-And the gaze, as well.
-Yes, the gaze. Yes.
That's not a happy or inviting gaze, he's kind of fixing you
with his stare! Don't you think?
Yes, it's a very intent, very engaging and very powerful image.
I think we've all felt from looking at it that as much as the subject,
obviously, is a religious subject, it's a spiritual quality
that communicates rather than anything strictly religious.
The sense that this is really a man, and kind of a portrait of a man,
as Christ, is very powerful.
When you look at this, now, in its pristine state, thanks to all
your endeavours, what are the bits that really strike you about it?
The hand for example, certainly for me, is just so beautifully done.
Yes. It has an incredible presence that no other picture
I've ever worked on, and I've worked on some very important things,
-has had this effect on me.
If you watch how he emerges at the end of the day, when the light
goes down, which is the kind of light that Leonardo describes
as being ideal for making pictures, he starts to glow from within.
And sort of pulse with life. It's very...it's eerie.
Do you think that you've been spending too long with it?!
Yes! I certainly have spent hundreds of hours!
I've experienced it too, actually!
There are details, if you look even here, this crystal ball,
in which he's portrayed these inclusions.
-The little flaws.
in which everyone is individually light.
Some from the top of it, some in the shadow, it really boggles to see the
degree of study and the degree of ability to be able to render that.
And of course, this enters into Leonardo's own very deep
study of optical effects of light and of science.
'It would be a while before I got into the
'restoration studio to see the evidence,
'to find out if this really is a lost Leonardo'.
'If it is, for some people it would be like finding a new planet!
'It's a measure of the extraordinary
'veneration in which Leonardo is held'.
He is that kind of mysterious, profound artist who seems
to address the mysteries and secrets of life
and to give them such beautiful expression
without ever tying them down.
Something of a cult has grown up around Leonardo.
It's not just art lovers.
Thriller writers and conspiracy theorists are drawn to him,
fascinated by his obsessive enquiries
into the frontiers of knowledge.
From the secret of flight
to the motions of the moon
to the hidden architecture of the human body,
all minutely noted in his mysterious mirror handwriting.
We've got thousands of pages of writing, we've got
these pictures, not many, to be sure, but he remains elusive,
so there's this strange balance between being known and unknown,
and it's a very precious, precarious balance.
The unknown is sufficiently apparent, that people
can go in and see mysteries where there are no mysteries, in fact.
Is it possible to strip away the myths, the cult of Leonardo, and see
the truth about this flawed, often puzzling man?
The medieval town of Vinci, in Tuscany, in northern Italy.
It was here on 15th April, 1452, that Leonardo was born.
His surname, Da Vinci, literally means, "From the town of Vinci."
Leonardo's start in life wasn't auspicious.
He was illegitimate.
His father came from a respected local family. His mother was
a poor peasant girl - his father's mistress.
Leonardo was born and would always remain something of an outsider.
He never inherited his father's wealth.
He never settled anywhere for too long.
All his life, he moved from place to place.
Leonardo's schooling was basic.
He always called himself an uneducated man.
But he made a virtue of this.
His school room was the Tuscan countryside.
He began to draw.
Over the course of his life,
he would fill hundreds of notebooks with minutely observed drawings
of animals, plants and natural forms.
There's a tenderness and sympathy in these pictures
as well as a remarkable skill.
At the age of 13 or so, Leonardo left this small country town.
He carried with him his love of the landscape,
his fascination with animals, and the wonders of the natural world.
He set off for a new life in a very different sort of place.
Florence in the 1460's was wealthy,
cultured, a magnet for the finest artists, sculptors and architects.
An exciting place to be.
The city was the pinnacle of Renaissance splendour.
What better place for an aspiring young artist to live and learn.
Leonardo had come to work as an apprentice
to a master artist and craftsman, Andrea del Verrocchio.
Artists' studios were busy, crowded, dusty places.
In the workshops of Florence's cathedral, where sculptors
still work in the same way they have for centuries, you can get some
sense of what it was like. Young apprentices learnt everything
from how to clean brushes to how to paint an angel's wing.
Verrocchio's workshop would have been a hive of activity.
As well as producing paintings under the guidance of the master,
he would have produced sculptures in bronze and marble,
works in silver and gold, theatre sets - anything the wealthy
and cultured classes of Florence desired.
But for Leonardo, the city itself became his studio.
He kept a notebook always dangling from his belt,
and he drew the faces he saw around him.
The turns and movement of the human body fascinated him.
In the city's Uffizi Gallery, you can catch the first glimpse
of the hand of Leonardo, the painter.
The moment when Leonardo's master
decided it was time to let his talented pupil pick up a brush.
This is Verrocchio's painting of Christ with John the Baptist.
Except this isn't all Verrochio's work.
There's something very special about the kneeling angel here.
Leonardo had the task of painting the angel when he was 23 or so.
Just look a little bit more closely.
The fact that the angel is three-quarter turned away from us,
gazing raptly, adoringly, at Christ,
that pose was groundbreaking at the time.
Then look at the curls. Fine detail like ripples of water.
You'll see that more and more, and then, the subtlety of the blue
and the shading of the drapes of the material.
Apparently, when Verrochio saw that, as the story goes,
he decided that he should put down his brush
and stop painting altogether,
because he had been surpassed by his apprentice.
Leonardo progressed to more ambitious and complex subjects.
Though this painting in the Uffizi is unfinished,
and at first glance, looks a bit of a mess.
It's so dark and jumbled.
It's hard even to know what's going on!
It's a common religious subject - the moment when the three wise men
come to pay homage to the infant Christ.
Instead of the usual group of static, silent,
there's something completely different going on here.
The only still figure at the centre is Mary and baby Jesus.
Around her, there is life, vitality, chaos.
And there's even something slightly threatening about the way the crowd
is pressing in on her and the faces, some of them seem rather skull-like.
There are horses in the background rearing,
there appears to be fighting going on.
There's a real sense that the old order has been thrown over. And the new one is about to begin.
There's an interesting detail to the right of the picture.
The one figure who is standing looking away from the action.
Many artists at that time would put a self-portrait in their work,
and it's believed that that is, in fact,
a portrait of Leonardo himself.
If that's true,
it may be the only image we have of Leonardo as a young man.
It's not known why Leonardo didn't finish the work.
But he became notorious for abandoning projects
half way through. It drove his patrons mad with frustration.
Time and time again, Leonardo couldn't or wouldn't finish the job.
His insatiable curiosity meant that he was often distracted
by something new or something different.
And it's a paradox of Leonardo's that a man that was obsessed
with detail and with reproducing that detail in paint
often just left his works unfinished.
I think with the Adoration of the Magi, Leonardo realised that he
had started a picture that he simply didn't know how to finish.
He had bitten off more than he could chew, if you like.
I think he was sometimes intimidated
by what he set out to do. and he got to a point
sometimes where he realised he wasn't going to be able to finish,
that he couldn't arrive at the perfect beauty
that he had in his mind.
In some ways, it's astonishing that he finished anything at all,
given what he wanted for painting, what he thought painting
should be able to achieve.
As he matured as an artist,
Leonardo acquired a reputation for being unreliable,
a bit flaky, even. But an exceptional talent.
Leonardo appeared to be living a charmed life in Florence.
By the age of 20, he had been accepted into the official
Florentine body of painters.
He was described as generous, cultivated, well-dressed,
extremely beautiful, with his hair cascading down
in ringlets to his chest. One poet said he had infinite grace.
But a dark shadow was about to fall across his world.
Renaissance Florence was a small city.
No more than 60,000 inhabitants.
Florentines knew each other's business.
They loved scandal.
They would write anonymous notes to the authorities
denouncing anyone they thought guilty of a crime.
They dropped them into holes in the wall like this, known as
buchi della verita - holes of truth.
In early April 1476, someone dropped a denunciation
into one of these holes. And it read, "To the officers of the night,
"I hereby testify that Jacopo Saltarelli, aged 17,
"who dresses in black, pursues many immoral activities and consents
"to satisfy those persons
"who request sinful things from him".
He means, of course, homosexuality. And it goes on to list
four of Jacopo's lovers or clients, including one "Leonardo da Vinci,
"who works with the painter, Verrocchio".
Homosexuality was common enough in 15th century Florence,
particularly among artists and bohemians.
But it was still a crime, punishable by death.
Leonardo was forced to attend court.
But the charges against him were eventually dropped.
Was Leonardo gay?
Some biographers say his art suggests he was.
The recurring image of a young man with curly hair is arguably based
on a young man called Salai - an apprentice in Leonardo's studio.
He's there in a lot of drawings, seen often in profile
with this slightly decadent profile
and this cascade of ringleted hair.
This was something that Leonardo really loved.
Those angels always have this
cascade of flowing hair - it was a kind of trademark
in his paintings and drawings.
There are one or two comments he makes in his notebooks which
suggest he ran into a bit of trouble,
because his angels were considered a bit too much like the pretty boys
from the street, or the artist models on which
they were no doubt based.
Salai remained at Leonardo's side for the next 30 years
until Leonardo's death - pupil, servant,
confidant, and his lover.
So this is the key relationship, probably, in Leonardo's life.
In Florence, Leonardo was recognised as a supremely accomplished artist.
But it was in another Italian city that he would
Milan was the wealthiest city state in Renaissance Italy.
If Florence was a jewel of culture, Milan was a city
of excess, of ostentation.
It's fashion week here in Milan
and there's something about the buzz and the glamour and the excitement
that brings to mind why Leonardo came here all those years ago.
It was a place to see and be seen, it was all about spectacle.
He came here not as a painter, but as a musician
and not just any musician, but with a lira di braccio,
which was a kind of violin made out of solid silver
in the shape of a horse's head.
It was quite an entrance!
Leonardo's patron in Milan
was the Duke Ludovico Sforza, an immensely powerful
and dangerous man.
Leonardo saw him as a means to an end,
a way of pursuing his own developing ideas.
He brought with him an extraordinary letter of introduction.
This is Leonardo presenting himself for employment
to the Duke of Milan.
It's a CV - but not what you'd expect.
It's calculated to appeal to a 15th century despot.
It starts with a bit of flattery - he writes, "Senor mi ilustrisimo",
"my most illustrious Lord",
and then Leonardo effectively goes on to sell himself
as an inventor and maker of fantastical weapons!
There's a whole list of them here.
He talks about, "Ponti leggerissimi forti",
bridges which are very light and strong.
"I can make an infinite variety of methods of attack and defence."
It's only at the end, almost as an afterthought,
that he refers to himself as an artist. He says, "I can further
"execute sculpture in clay, marble and bronze.
"Also in painting, I can do as much as anyone else,
"whoever that may be". Now, was he really that modest
about his own talents or was it that he thought of all his talents,
his painting was the thing that
would least appeal to the Duke of Milan at the time?
Whatever he meant,
the letter reveals the dazzling diversity of Leonardo's
interests and talents. Designing machines of war.
Studying the motion of water.
Mapping the geometry of the human body,
relating it to the perfect forms of the circle and the square
in the famous drawing known as the Vitruvian Man.
That person in the circle,
as well as expressing certain ideas of proportion and harmony
and therefore being a rather abstract composition,
that person is undoubtedly a real person.
You can see his feet sort of pressing against the edge
of the circle, you can see the muscles straining as he puts
his arms out in the sort of flying position, as it seems to be.
And then, very much, you have very specific features,
a rather saturnine figure with long hair, parted in the middle,
and these eyes boring out.
And if you look hard at the face of the Vitruvian Man,
which people strangely enough don't often do, because they're so
aware of it as a sort of emblematic figure, kind of a logo almost
of the Renaissance as it's used,
that people don't tend to suddenly think,
"Well, who is this guy?" Well, I think the answer is it's
a self-portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci.
Who better to express the sort of
secrets of human proportion than the philosophical artist, scientist,
Leonardo Da Vinci himself.
In the court of Ludovico Sforza,
Leonardo was employed on a surprising range of projects.
He didn't make his main living by being paid to paint pictures.
He made his living at the court.
He was paid at the court to do great festival designs.
He was paid at the court to do military designs,
and when he was asked to do these great designs
for weddings or whatever, I think
he got very involved with it and he could always see possibilities.
I suspect he would have groaned initially,
and then suddenly become captivated by the project.
But Leonardo was also experimenting with painting portraits.
I must say, I don't warm to this young lady.
She looks decidedly frosty.
So why is she so admired?
The portrait of Ginevra de' Benci is curiously unlovable.
She really stares at us with
a quite sort of chilly, menacing gaze. I think what Leonardo
was trying to do was to make her very remotely beautiful,
was to raise her beauty above a kind of ordinary human level
to something that was poetic and almost otherworldly.
I think she comes over as
rather as if she's carved from marble rather than
like a living, breathing human being and I think he moved on
a great deal in his subsequent portraits.
One picture in particular
would take the art of portrait painting to new heights.
It's thought by some to be Leonardo's unsung masterpiece.
But it's left Italy forever, now hanging 700 miles away in Poland.
I've come to see a painting
that some experts believe is more beautiful than the Mona Lisa.
And to think it was almost completely unknown to the Western
art world until the start of the 20th Century!
In 1798, it was bought by a Polish prince.
In its long life, it's been walled up in a palace,
hidden in a hotel cellar, and survived two world wars.
It formed part of Hitler's private collection of looted art.
Its present home is the Royal Castle in Warsaw.
The portrait is of Ludovico's elegant young mistress,
It's become known as The Lady with the Ermine.
An Italian poet writing when this was painted
said that Cecila appeared so lifelike,
it was almost as if she was listening.
And when you look at her pose, see if I can get this right...
..it's as if someone's just caught her attention
just outside the frame.
And this was revolutionary. No one else was painting like this,
getting the body in that kind of movement.
Look at her hand - you can see under the skin
the bones and the muscles and the tendons.
Just look at her face.
Young, modest, but intelligent and alert. You can see that!
And that's why I love this painting.
And then what about the ermine or the stoat that she's holding?
I mean, what's that all about? It's certainly not a pet.
But to anyone at the time,
the symbolism of the ermine would have been immediately apparent.
The ermine was the symbol of purity, of chastity.
The story was that the ermine would rather die
than let its pure white coat be soiled.
But also, this was about sex, because the ermine
was the symbol of Cecilia's lover, of Ludovico Sforza.
And when you look at him...
Look, he's muscular, he's got his claws digging into her arm,
he looks as if he might take a nip out of her at any moment.
This is about sex and about power.
Back in Milan, in 1495, Leonardo began work on a painting
that would confirm him as the greatest artist of his age.
The monastery of Santa Maria della Grazia was funded
by Leonardo's patron, Ludovico Sforza.
He commissioned Leonardo to paint a huge picture
for the monks' dining room.
The result would bring triumph, but also tragedy.
It's visited by thousands of people every year.
Their time limited to just 15 minutes in the presence
of the masterpiece.
It's approached through a series of airlocks.
It's more like a hospital, protecting the patient
But the stage management of the entrance and the exit to this work
is very important.
Because this is a deliberately dramatic work of art.
It's such a famous image,
but nothing prepares you for seeing it in the flesh.
Leonardo's epic painting shows the Last Supper,
the meal Christ shares with his disciples
just before his death.
And in it, Leonardo has taken everything he has learned
from the portraits about revealing the life within
and choreographed it on a huge scale.
He's painted the precise moment when Christ says,
"One of you will betray me."
And the reaction of the disciples is frozen in time.
But you can see that bombshell ripple out through the painting,
in their faces, in their body language and, very Italian,
in their hands.
This is not some traditional, flat,
rather sterile religious image,
this is human drama on a scale larger than life.
It's realistic, it has perspective, passion.
It's like a story in widescreen.
But the painting we see today... is the ghost of what it was.
Because only 20% of the original remains.
So what happened?
The clue is in the way Leonardo chose to work -
unorthodox and eventually disastrous.
Paintings on walls, frescoes, have to be painted quickly
onto wet plaster.
But Leonardo knew he was anything but a fast worker.
He chose to work in oil paint on plaster that had already dried.
The result? Within a few decades, the picture began to deteriorate.
Several desperate attempts have been made over the centuries
to salvage it.
Leonardo's slow, painstaking approach to painting
brought the monks to a frenzy of impatience.
Eye witnesses sent to spy on him
reported he would sometimes work from dawn to dusk
and then do nothing for days, except stand and look.
The detail of Leonardo's painting can never be recovered.
But a key to what it looked like
can be found surprisingly close to home.
In the chapel of Magdalen College in Oxford,
and quite unknown to most people, hangs Britain's last supper.
It was painted in Leonardo's day, thought to be by a pupil
of Leonardo, copied from the original,
possibly approved by the master himself.
Details which have disappeared forever from Leonardo's picture
can be seen clearly in this one.
The food on the table...
..the sandaled feet of the disciples...
..and most dramatically the face of Simon,
stubborn and disbelieving.
In 1499, Leonardo left Milan.
His restless, inquiring nature took him off in pursuit of new,
often wildly ambitious projects.
In Venice, he tried to persuade the authorities
to let him build underwater defences for the city.
In Rome, he worked on designs for grand villas and statues.
He dreamed up a scheme to divert the waters of the river
around Florence to make it navigable.
Eventually, he settled back in Florence,
the city that had made him a painter.
But things had changed here.
In a city already crowded with talent, a new star had emerged,
whose talents as a painter and sculptor
threatened to eclipse Leonardo's.
He was arrogant and aggressively ambitious.
His name was Michelangelo
and the two men would become fierce rivals.
In 1501, Michelangelo won the commission
to build a colossal statue for the city, of David,
the slayer of Goliath.
Leonardo was piqued and unimpressed.
The two artists couldn't have been more different.
Whereas Michelangelo's figures are virile supermen,
all muscle and swagger,
Leonardo was always after delicacy and subtlety.
He even had a go at figures like that, saying their bulging muscles
made them look ridiculous - like "un sacco di noci",
a bag of nuts.
Leonardo was much in demand,
as military engineer, map maker, architect, designer.
And though he was celebrated as a painter, he was notorious
for late delivery.
One man wrote of him, "Leonardo is better than anyone.
"But he won't leave a picture alone."
It was a quality that got him into trouble more than once.
At the age of 54, he received a summons from some rich patrons
in Milan - "Come back and finish our painting."
The painting in question
is a mysterious reimagining of the Madonna and child.
Once again, Leonardo brought to a conventional subject
an unusual approach.
He places them in a strange cavern of rocks,
a remote deserted place
suggesting a world before time began.
Instead of the bright, sharp colours of the day,
he creates an atmosphere of shadows and subtle shifts
of light and shade.
Before Leonardo, people were very, very interested
in line, in contour.
Leonardo, on the other hand, believed
in dissolving those contours to make something
which was...which was really modelled from light and shade.
And he used a technique called sfumato, which literally means
smoked or smoky. So that's about
those misty transitions of light and shade
which he applied to a face like the Virgin in the Virgin Of The Rocks.
It was really an entirely revolutionary process
and was born from the fact that he understood
the way in which light fell on objects
like no other artist before him.
The painting now hangs in the National Gallery in London.
It's being restored for a major Leonardo exhibition there.
The restoration is a terrifyingly delicate business.
Just how much do you tinker with a Leonardo?
On the one hand, it's a restoration of a Renaissance painting.
On the other hand, it is a Leonardo, which is no small thing.
The retouching I am doing is quite reversible
and separated from the actual paint of Leonardo
by a modern varnish layer.
Leonardo was really exploring the possibilities of using oil paint
to do this kind of modelling from light to dark
in a consistent way. I think he's exploring the difference
between quite dark, very dark and extremely dark,
in a way that other artists up to then hadn't really done.
One of the things that I think is essential about Leonardo -
you can see when you look closely at this picture -
is the way that he didn't seem to like to produce
a definitive answer to anything. Contours are always being adjusted,
nothing is quite final.
There's often the possibility of just a slight change,
a little modification here, a twist there,
a line a little different than it was.
And the fact that so many of his works are unfinished
speaks to that kind of psychological tendency.
I think he always saw another possibility,
another way of doing something.
Leonardo would never lose his habit of seeing other possibilities.
He spent many months here at the monastery of Santissima Annunziata
in the centre of Florence.
The monks would certainly have appreciated a painting from him.
But one who visited him at work in his studio reported,
"He scarcely seems interested in picking up a brush."
Leonardo's attention had been seized by new kinds of exploration,
including the study of the human body.
From dissections he made in the city's hospitals,
he analysed the architecture of the body...
..and noted the minute workings of its internal organs.
The anatomical drawings are incredibly beautiful
and he would regard the inside of the body as at least as beautiful
as the outside.
So if he draws, say, the branching of the air passages in the lung,
it becomes like a coral. It's a beautiful structure,
and that's not a loose analogy
because he saw branching in nature as all the same thing.
How a tree branches, how our vessels branch, how rivers come together,
these are all systems which are essentially the same.
During these intense philosophical investigations,
painting seems to have been forgotten. Until...
One day Leonardo received a request to paint a portrait.
It probably came from Francesco del Giocondo,
a merchant in silk and cloth,
and he wanted Leonardo to paint a portrait of his wife.
Nothing unusual in that -
a perfectly ordinary, everyday subject.
What Leonardo could not have imagined is that this would be
the painting that defined him.
It would become the most famous painting in the world.
As so often with Leonardo, you can see glimpses of future masterpieces
in his sketchbooks.
The merchant, Del Giocondo, never actually received the portrait
of his wife which he'd commissioned.
When Leonardo left Italy for the last time in 1516,
he took it with him.
He had an invitation from the young French king, Francis I.
Francis saw in Leonardo a mentor and a genius
who would adorn his court.
But Leonardo never stopped working on his portrait of the wife
of a Florentine merchant.
She now hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
She's known, of course, as the Mona Lisa.
I've come here for a private audience with her
to try and see why she has become the most iconic image
in the world.
It's not obvious.
On first impressions, she's very small, very dark
and very yellow.
I know this is the most famous painting in the world
and is considered a work of genius, but I just don't quite get it.
What is so good about the Mona Lisa?
How did Leonardo manage to create this mysterious
and captivating woman?
It is uncanny.
It lives in a very extraordinary way.
This is... You know, it sounds kind of pretentious
but there is no other way of describing it.
The figure seems not just to be inert pigments on a surface,
but seems to be living and breathing.
Now, the way that Leonardo did that is not by some kind of mystery,
he did it by technique and he did it by mixing in the flesh,
in these key areas, these very subtle,
thin layers of paint, called glazes.
Just a little, thin stain of colour, a lot of oil
and just little dispersed bits of pigment.
So he lays that down on top of a white priming.
Then he'll lay another stain down,
then another one and another one, sometimes adding a bit of shadow,
sometimes a little bit of highlight, but basically he's relying upon
the light coming through from the white panel.
So he's using this transparency and it means the light comes through
and is very subtle, very elusive and you don't have fixed edges.
He doesn't draw the edge of a nose as a line.
It's very ambiguous, very elusive.
That is uncanny, it's spine tingling.
Leonardo spent the last years of his life at the court
of the French King.
Relieved of all pressure to deliver paintings, free to follow
wherever his curiosity led him.
I think at the end of his life,
Leonardo was, if anything, more of a celebrity than a painter.
And when he moved to France, it was not necessarily
because King Francis wanted somebody who was going to paint
enormous fresco cycles in the various chateaux that he owned.
I think it was more that he wanted to be seen to offer protection
to perhaps the greatest man in Christendom, of the day.
His last self portrait seems to show the face of a man
who has spent a lifetime enquiring into everything.
He died on 2nd May, 1519, at the age of 67,
in the arms, so the story goes, of the French king.
Francis declared he, "Did not believe that a man had been born
"who knew as much as Leonardo."
Leonardo left several of his paintings to his favourite, Salai.
Among them was the Mona Lisa.
She won't be travelling to London for the exhibition.
Instead, the buzz will be about a picture
that most people will never heard of...
..the newly discovered Salvator Mundi.
It's an amazing story.
It's been known for centuries that Leonardo painted
such a picture.
Until now, it was thought lost.
This is how the picture looked before it was restored,
dismissed as a crude copy, buried in a private collection,
last sold for £45 in 1958.
I went to the restoration studio to see the evidence for myself.
What had led restorer Dianne Modestini to believe
she had discovered a lost Leonardo?
First of all, X-rays revealed what lay beneath
the surface of the painting.
That's the face, isn't it?
Yes, which you can just barely make out the features.
What about these cracks? What are they up there to the left?
-That's the crack in the wood.
-Just missed his face.
Imagine it had gone through the middle!
Yeah, miraculous. Just missed the face.
You see, it all came from this knot.
-Oh, a knot in the wood?
-There was a knot in the wood.
It had this defect.
Leonardo was very never very careful about his wooden supports.
Given how meticulous he was about everything else,
-that's quite surprising.
-It's very surprising.
-So the wood has basically warped and split from that knot.
One of the things you must have been looking for, which is
a classic clue to whether or not a picture is an original,
-is a pentimento, it's called, isn't it?
Which is where an artist has had a number of goes
at painting something in a particular way before settling
on painting a hand in a particular way or a drape of cloth.
-And you can see him trying to work it out on the canvas.
It doesn't look like there are any here in the X-ray.
No, we don't see any in this X-ray, but where we do see them
is in the infrared reflectogram.
So what are we looking at here?
Here we can see quite clearly, I think,
that there's a first idea for the thumb.
Oh, yes! So it was more upright.
It was more upright.
But this was the moment that gave us a clue and gave us some hope,
which wouldn't have entered our minds previously,
that we might be dealing with a lost original.
As it became clearer to you that this could well be
an original Leonardo, did you have a moment where you thought...
..if I do the wrong thing here...
this could all rest on your shoulders.
Yeah, I couldn't let myself think about that. I couldn't.
I would never have dared to touch it.
The discovery of a different first design for the thumb
was an incredible breakthrough.
No one painting a mere copy would experiment in this way.
When the picture was finally shown to leading Leonardo experts,
they examined everything - its history, its hidden details,
the paint itself.
I walked in to the conservation studios where it was being displayed
at that point and you get that tingle and you think,
"Ah, this is..."
But then I always have a gravitational pull.
I say, "Don't believe it!"
A Leonardo painting hasn't come along like that
since the early 20th century,
so one every 100 years is kind of rare.
There is that long process of research where you're putting
the counter arguments and saying,
"Let's look for what's wrong with it."
And in this case, I couldn't find anything wrong.
So the verdict is in. It's the real thing.
Getting the Salvator Mundi
and all the other paintings to London,
poses a massive challenge...
especially the huge copy of the Last Supper in Oxford.
Moving the picture is a two-day operation.
Once it's lowered from the walls,
it's removed from the wooden stretchers
that keep the canvas taut.
The canvas is carefully rolled around a drum, painted side outwards
to stop it cracking.
Then it's off to the National Gallery to take its place
alongside work by Leonardo himself.
Never before will so many Leonardo paintings
and drawings have been assembled in one place.
And almost certainly, they never will be again.
So valuable, so delicate,
it's unlikely anyone would dare risk moving them again.
When you strip away the cult that has grown up around Leonardo,
his sheer skill and vision as a painter
still tower above all others.
But there is also mystery.
He's an artist who continues to intrigue and baffle and astonish.
And that enduring mystery has earned him a unique place in our history.
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Leonardo da Vinci is considered by many to be one of the greatest artists who ever lived. Yet his reputation rests on only a handful of pictures - including the world's most famous painting, the Mona Lisa.
As the National Gallery in London prepares to open its doors on a remarkable exhibition of Leonardo's work, Fiona Bruce travels to Florence, Milan, Paris and Warsaw to uncover the story of this enigmatic genius - and to New York, where she is given an exclusive preview of a sensational discovery: a new Leonardo.