“Virgin of the Rocks” by Leonardo da Vinci depicts the Madonna and Child Jesus with the infant John the Baptist and an angel in a rocky setting, which provides the painting with its unusual name.
This painting is in the National Gallery of London. It is one of two versions of this picture, which has the same name and similar composition but with several differences in the detail.
The earliest version of the two paintings is in the Louvre, Paris, and has been transferred to the canvas, whereas this painting is on the original wooden panel.
The composition shows a grouping of four figures, the Virgin Mary, the Christ child, the infant John the Baptist, and an angel arranged into a triangular formation.
The setting is a background of rocks and a distant landscape of mountains and water. Mary occupies the apex of the pyramidal figure group, stretching one hand to include John and raising the other above the head of the Christ child is a blessing.
John is kneeling and looking towards the Christ child with his hands together in an attitude of prayer. The angel supports the Christ child. Christ is raising his right hand in a sign of Benediction towards the kneeling John.
The subject of both paintings is the adoration of the Christ child by the infant John the Baptist. The critical differences in the two pictures are in the gaze and right hand of the angel.
There are also differences in the colors, the lighting, and the flora. In this painting, the angel is looking at John. In the Louvre version, the angel is looking at Jesus and pointing at John.
This story is not in the Bible, but it became part of a tradition of medieval tales about encounters between the young Jesus and John.
Leonardo was familiar with legends of Saint John the Baptist, which was popular in his native Florence, where he was the patron saint.
Other famous artists who have portrayed this story in the art include Raphael and Michelangelo.
The Louvre version
This painting was part of a sculpted altar commissioned in the 1480s for a chapel attached to the church of Saint Francesco Grande in Milan.
The final execution of the commission was prolonged as the first version of this painting was not completed until 1486, and it was then sent to France, and today is on display in the Louvre.
Leonardo then painted a replacement for the chapel in 1508, which is this painting.
Eighty years later, the altarpiece was removed from the chapel, which was demolished, and the artwork eventually found its way into the National Gallery Collection.
If an artwork exists in several versions, the one believed to be the earliest is called the prime version. Many unique artworks are sometimes repeated by artists, often several times.
The prime version of the “Virgin of the Rocks” is believed to be the Louvre version.
Transfer of Panel Paintings
The transfer of panel paintings is the practice used for conserving an unstable painting on a panel by transferring it from its original wood support to canvas or a new panel.
Improved methods of wood conservation have superseded this method; however, many famous paintings have undergone this process during earlier periods of conservation.
This approach was widely practiced in the second half of the 19th century. This version of the “Virgin of the Rocks” has not been transferred. The Louvre version has been moved from wood to canvas.
Virgin of the Rocks
- Title: Virgin of the Rocks or Madonna of the Rocks
- Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
- Created: 1506-8
- Periods: Renaissance
- Media: Oil on poplar, thinned and cradled
- Dimensions: 189.5 x 120 cm
- Museum: The National Gallery, London
Leonardo da Vinci
- Name: Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci
- Artist: 1452 – Vinci, Republic of Florence (present-day Italy)
- Died: 1519 (aged 67) – Amboise, Kingdom of France
- Movement: High Renaissance
Virgin of the Rocks
A Tour of the National Gallery
13th Century Paintings
- “The Virgin and Child Enthroned, with Narrative Scenes” by Margarito d’Arezzo – 1264
- “The Virgin and Child” by Master of the Clarisse – 1268
- “Crucifix” by Master of Saint Francis – 1270
14th Century Paintings
- Wilton Diptych – 1395
- “The Annunciation” by Duccio – 1311
- “The Healing of the Man Born Blind” by Duccio – 1311
15th Century Paintings
- “Arnolfini Portrait” by Jan van Eyck – 1434
- “The Battle of San Romano” by Paolo Uccello– 1440
- “Venus and Mars” by Sandro Botticelli – 1483
- “Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan” by Giovanni Bellini– 1501
Restoring Leonardo’s ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’| National Gallery
16th Century Paintings
- “Mystic Nativity” by Sandro Botticelli – 1550
- “Virgin of the Rocks” by Leonardo da Vinci – 1506
- “The Madonna of the Pinks” by Raphael – 1507
- “The Raising of Lazarus” by Sebastiano del Piombo– 1519
- “Salvator Mundi” by Andrea Previtali – 1519
- “Bacchus and Ariadne” by Titian – 1523
- “The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein the Younger – 1533
- “Mary Magdalene” by Girolamo Savoldo – 1540
- “Saint George and the Dragon” by Tintoretto – 1558
- “The Family of Darius before Alexander” by Paolo Veronese – 1567
- “Diana and Actaeon” by Titian – 1569
- “The Rape of Europa” by Paolo Veronese – 1570
- “The Death of Actaeon” by Titian – 1575
- “The Origin of the Milky Way” by Tintoretto – 1575
The mystery of Leonardo Da Vinci’s two Virgins
17th Century Paintings
- “Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio – 1601
- “Samson and Delilah” by Peter Paul Rubens – 1610
- “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Diego Velázquez – 1618
- “The Judgement of Paris” by Peter Paul Rubens – 1635
- “Aurora abducting Cephalus” by Peter Paul Rubens – 1637
- “Equestrian Portrait of Charles I” by Anthony van Dyck – 1638
- “Venus at her Mirror” by Diego Velázquez – 1651
- “The Courtyard of a House in Delft” by Pieter de Hooch – 1658
- “Self Portrait at the Age of 63” by Rembrandt – 1669
- “A Young Woman standing at a Virginal” by Johannes Vermeer – 1670
Leonardo da Vinci Virgin of the Rocks
“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”
– Leonardo da Vinci
Photo Credit 1)Leonardo da Vinci and workshop [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons