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Historic collaboration between the National Gallery, London, and the Louvre

Issued: July 2011

The National Gallery and the Louvre announce a unique collaboration which brings both versions of the 'Virgin of the Rocks' together for the very first time. The two pictures will be shown at The National Gallery’s exhibition, Leonardo da Vinci: Painter of the Court of Milan from 9 November 2011 – 5 February 2012 in London.

Just a few months later, but this time at the Louvre in the exhibition, 'Leonardo da Vinci’s St Anne', Leonardo’s newly cleaned and restored 'The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne' will be joined with the National Gallery’s version, The Burlington House Cartoon - Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and John the Baptist, from 29 March – 25 June 2012.

These two exhibitions will illuminate the painting career of Leonardo da Vinci as never before, providing an unprecedented and unique chance to examine and study these related works in their artistic contexts. This collaboration between the two institutions has taken into consideration the serious scholarly ambitions of each exhibition and the research opportunities they provide. The Louvre and the National Gallery also believe that these comparisons will be of exceptional interest to a wide public. All these factors have persuaded both galleries to lend their precious masterpieces for the first time, in the expectation that no such exhibitions will be held again.

Director of the National Gallery, Dr Nicholas Penny, “We are delighted and very grateful to our colleagues at the Louvre for the loan of this celebrated painting. It is part of an extraordinary collaboration between the National Gallery and the Department of Paintings at the Louvre. 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.”

Director of Louvre Henri Loyrette, ”This exceptional collaboration between the National Gallery, London and the Louvre achieves 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: Leonardo da Vinci’s two well-known versions of the Virgin of the Rocks and of the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne. As complementary as our two collections are, a continuation of this exchange would be invaluable and beautifully fruitful.”

National Gallery, London

For further press information and National Gallery releases, please contact Michelle Gonsalves at / 020 7747 2512

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Louvre, Paris

For further press information and Louvre releases, please contact Céline Dauvergne at / +33 (0) 1 40208466


Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan has been conceived and organised by the National Gallery and curated by Luke Syson, Curator of Italian Paintings before 1500 and Head of Research at The National Gallery. 'Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan' is sponsored by Credit Suisse. The Times is the media partner for this exhibition.


Admission: full price £16.00 / concessions £14.00

For advance tickets to ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ please call 0844 248 5097 (booking fee) or visit (booking fees). You can also book tickets by post and in person from the Gallery.

For public information, please contact 020 7747 2885 or

Due to the high public demand of the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, visitors are advised to BOOK EARLY.

Notes to editors

Both versions of Virgin of the Rocks at the National Gallery

One of the issues in the history of Renaissance art that has perplexed experts is why Leonardo da Vinci painted two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks. Though variations on a theme, the two pictures are clearly of different dates. The second London version has been considerably rethought, demonstrating a change in Leonardo’s artistic ambitions in the years around 1490. Both reveal Leonardo’s complex thinking about the relationship between painting and nature. But in the past many scholars have believed that only one, usually the earlier Louvre picture was wholly by Leonardo.

'The Virgin of the Rocks' (Louvre) was first commissioned by the Milanese Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception for its new chapel at San Francesco Grande, not long after Leonardo had first arrived in Milan in 1482/3. The commission was given to Leonardo and two local artists, the half-brothers Ambrogio and Evangelista de’ Predis. Produced between 1483 and 1486, the commission included a central panel painting of the Virgin and Child (the picture that would become the Virgin of the Rocks) and two groups of musician angels, all of which were to be incorporated into a sculpted altarpiece that had been carved between 1480 and 1482 by Giacomo del Maino.

In the Louvre 'Virgin of the Rocks' four exquisitely painted figures – the Virgin and Child, the infant Saint John the Baptist and an angel – are arranged at the edge of a pool, set back within the picture as if on a stage. Behind them is an architecture of rocks, framing a single monolith, and a sea or lake with more crags and mountains beyond. Growing everywhere is a lush profusion of plants and flowers. Here we see the results of all of Leonardo’s intense study of the natural world and no landscape quite like it had ever been painted before.

Having finished the picture, it seems that its creators felt that the agreed fee was lower than its true worth. Unable to agree a new price with the Confraternity after submitting a petition to Ludovico Il Moro on the matter, sometime between 1491 and 1494, the work was almost certainly sold to an unknown third party.

At some stage in this period, it seems that a replacement version was begun – the National Gallery Virgin of the Rocks. Although probably installed in the chapel by 1503, this second version was itself the subject of another dispute about payment and its lack of completion was noted in 1506, resulting in a large part from Leonardo’s absence from Milan between 1501 and 1506. After his return to Milan in 1506 the project seems to have been restarted, with the painting finally being considered finished enough to receive final payment in 1508.

Produced between 1491 and 1508 at irregular intervals, the London 'Virgin of the Rocks' is a composition of the most artful complexity in which he re-examines his beliefs and values as a painter and philosopher.

Curator of Italian Paintings before 1500, Luke Syson, “Treating the theme of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, Leonardo appears deliberately to emulate God’s own perfect vision of the Virgin as the mother of Christ, planned from before the beginning of time itself. The perfection of his Madonna is now complete and unalterable. In the London version Leonardo places her within a landscape that combines the beauties of nature to make something that Leonardo considered more beautiful, still unsullied by human intervention. The painted rocks are notably less naturalistic than the earlier Louvre picture and have been re-thought with other details of the composition. The rocks are straightened to become great columns and the flowers appear to be ideal composites of the leaves and petals of real plants. Leonardo observes, analyses, memorises, imagines and then he creates.”

The National Gallery, London Exhibition

'Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan' at the National Gallery focuses on Leonardo’s extraordinary observation, imagination and technique as a painter. The exhibition concentrates on his career at the court of Milan, working for the city’s ruler Ludovico Maria Sforza, il Moro (‘the Moor’) in the 1480s and 1490s. Bringing together the largest ever number of Leonardo’s rare surviving paintings, it will include other international loans never before seen in the UK – but perhaps no other comparison will be so eagerly anticipated than the two versions of the 'Virgin of the Rocks'.

The Louvre Exhibition

At the Louvre, Leonardo’s newly cleaned and restored 'The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne' will be shown with the National Gallery’s Burlington House Cartoon - 'Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and John the Baptist'.

Leonardo da Vinci’s 'Virgin and Child with Saint Anne' was the most ambitious project, together with the Battle of Anghiari, pursued by the artist during his later years. This painting is the culmination of a long series of studies and versions executed by Leonardo on this same theme, which preoccupied the artist from 1501, and probably earlier, until his death in 1519.

Many questions about this celebrated 'Virgin and Child with Saint Anne' painting remain unanswered, particularly in relation to the origin of the commission and the date and development of its conception. However, several recent discoveries have provided important clues. In 2005, a researcher found a marginal notation from October 1503, inscribed in an incunabulum held at the library of the University of Heidelberg, indicating that work on the painting had already begun as of that date. In 2008, new laboratory analyses revealed traces of the original cartoon used by
the artist to transfer his composition to the wood surface.

The aim of this exhibition is to place this restored masterpiece in its historical context by bringing together, for the first time since the artist’s death, all surviving related works: compositional sketches, the many preparatory drawings, landscape studies, as well as several versions of the painting executed in the master’s studio and revealing intermediate stages in this major project. Visitors will thus be able to explore the formal and iconographic genesis of the composition in a new light, thanks to recent discoveries. The exhibition will also provide the opportunity to reposition the Saint Anne in the final periods of Leonardo’s working life and to show its considerable influence on later artists, especially among those working in Italy in the early 16th century, such as Michelangelo and Raphael, and through to the 20th century.

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