Leonardo da Vinci’s 'Virgin of the Rocks': Treatment, Technique and Display

Larry Keith, Ashok Roy, Rachel Morrison and Peter Schade
Technical Bulletin Volume 32, 2011


After several years of research into the feasibility and safety of a possible conservation treatment, in 2008–9 Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks was cleaned and restored. The treatment was undertaken primarily for aesthetic reasons, since the picture had become increasingly difficult to ‘read’ as the result of the severe degradation of the oil and mastic varnish applied in 1949.

Analytical study of the picture was carried out before treatment was begun, and at various times during cleaning, to clarify the status of surface layers, to provide information on layer structure and materials and to help interpret condition. As a result, our knowledge of Leonardo’s painting practice has been greatly enlarged. The details of the treatment are documented here with a full description of the materials and method used in making the picture. The article concludes with an account of the painting’s reframing and redisplay.


Leonardo da Vinci, cleaning and restoration, varnish analysis, Lombard painting technique, panel paintings, X-radiography, infrared reflectography, pigment analysis, cross-sections, medium analysis; SEM-EDX, GC-MS, ATR-FTIR, starch, tabernacle frame

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To cite this article we suggest using

Keith, L., Roy, A., Morrison, R., Schade, P. 'Leonardo da Vinci’s "Virgin of the Rocks": Treatment, Technique and Display'. National Gallery Technical Bulletin Vol 32, pp 32–56.

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  • Technical Bulletin Volume 33
    In this volume: Renoir’s 'Umbrellas' – Gerini’s 'Baptism Altarpiece' – Vuillard’s 'La Terrasse at Vasouy' - Adolphe Monticelli - 15th and 16th century European paintings
  • See other articles in Technical Bulletin Volume 32
    In this volume: Leonardo in Verrocchio's workshop – 'The Virgin of the Rocks' – painting practice in Milan in the 1490s – an altarpiece once in San Francesco Grande, Milan