The Virgin of the Rocks

An elaborate sculpted altar was commissioned by the Milanese Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception for their oratory in San Francesco in 1480. A new contract was drawn up in 1483 with Leonardo and the de Predis brothers: a central panel was to be painted by Leonardo alone, and there were to be two side panels showing angels singing and playing musical instruments. Two paintings of angels (An Angel in Green with a Vielle and An Angel in Red with a Lute) by artists influenced by Leonardo, are undoubtedly those for the altarpiece.

'The Virgin of the Rocks' seems not to refer to the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, but depicts the type of subject that Leonardo might have painted in his native Florence where legends concerning the young Saint John the Baptist were popular.

Execution of the commission was protracted. Leonardo may only have put the finishing touches to it in 1508. The finished work was then sent to France, (now Paris, Louvre). Leonardo painted a replacement for San Francesco that was probably completed with some help from his studio in 1508, and which is now in the National Gallery Collection.

Key facts

Artist dates
1452 - 1519
Full title
The Virgin with the Infant Saint John the Baptist adoring the Christ Child accompanied by an Angel ('The Virgin of the Rocks')
Date made
about 1491/2-9 and 1506-8
Medium and support
Oil on poplar, thinned and cradled
189.5 x 120 cm
Inscription summary
Acquisition credit
Bought, 1880
Inventory number
Location in Gallery

Other paintings in the group: Panels from the S. Francesco Altarpiece, Milan

Associate of Leonardo da Vinci (Francesco Napoletano?)
about 1490-9
Associate of Leonardo da Vinci: 'An Angel in Green with a Vielle'
Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis
about 1495-9
Associate of Leonardo da Vinci: 'An Angel in Red with a Lute'