The picture had been in a bad way, obscured by a degraded layer of varnish which had been applied during an earlier cleaning in the late 1940s. One of the most distinctive qualities of Leonardo’s paintings is their incredible modelling of light and dark, which creates extraordinary sculptural effects. With the discoloured and poorly saturating varnish, this subtlety had been lost.
Using the latest scientific techniques, the Conservation Department had the opportunity to reduce this obstacle, helping us to see the painting as it was originally conceived. Scientists identified the precise materials used, so that the utmost care could be taken in removing the varnish. Indeed not all of the old varnish was removed – it was simply reduced to a level which helps us to fully appreciate the painting.
The restoration revealed a number of new findings which have added to the Gallery's knowledge about Leonardo.