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Displaying items by tag: Virgin of the Rocks

Leonardo da Vinci always impressed on his students the importance of depicting nature accurately. He wrote: “Painter, you should know that you cannot be good if you are not a master universal enough to imitate with your art every kind of natural form.” Indeed, his own paintings and drawings of the natural world are as scientifically accurate as they are beautiful.

Five centuries on, scientists and art historians are trying to work out to what extent Leonardo had a hand in both versions of "Virgin of the Rocks" – the one in the Louvre, in Paris, and the replica in the National Gallery in London.

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The National Gallery and the Louvre have announced perhaps their most important collaboration ever, agreeing to lend each other one of their most important paintings with the aim, they say, of illuminating Leonardo da Vinci's painting career as never before.

Neither of the works has been lent before and, in all likelihood, never will be again.

The Louvre will send its version of Leonardo's Virgin of the Rocks across the Channel so it can hang alongside the London version for the first time. It will be part of the National Gallery's major Leonardo show in November.

In return, London will lend The Burlington House Cartoon – Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and John the Baptist so it can hang alongside the newly cleaned and restored Paris version, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne.

Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, called it an "extraordinary collaboration" and said they were "delighted and very grateful". He added: "I am quite sure that the experience of seeing these masterpieces juxtaposed will be one that none of us will ever forget or that will ever be repeated. I am delighted that such a rich context for these comparisons will be provided at each venue."

His counterpart at the Louvre, Henri Loyrette, said it achieved two "historical juxtapositions long desired by generations of art historians and which are certain to offer a source of considerable fascination for today's museum visitors as well".

Uniting the Virgins will cast light on what was going on in Leonardo's mind in terms of his artistic ambition and aims.

The Louvre version is the first, commissioned by the Milanese Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception for its new chapel at San Francesco Grande around 1482/3. The Louvre painting would have been the central panel of the altarpiece, if a row over the price had not led to it being sold to a third party.

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