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Mysterious Virgin

The hidden drawing

When curators and conservators examined the Virgin of the Rocks, they hoped to find an underdrawing. What they did not expect to find was a completely different picture, hidden under the paint.

Tracing of Leonardo's unused underdrawing for 'The Virgin of the Rocks' superimposed onto an image of the painting 

Conservators at the gallery collaborated with a team from Florence. They used a technique called infrared reflectography to look through the layers of paint and reveal details of the preliminary drawings underneath. The first part of the painting they focused on was the Virgin's head, but what sprang out were the face and hand of another figure. Leonardo had evidently started on one picture, and then abandoned it for the existing one.


The hidden drawing is of a kneeling woman (presumably the Virgin Mary) with her face in near profile and one hand across her breast.

The red lines show the outline of the hidden underdrawing.