The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci restored in London


19/7/10 – Restoration – London, National Gallery – The National Gallery in London has just finished restoring the Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci (ill. 1 and 2) which is now once again on display to the public since Wednesday, 14 July 2010.

The operation by specialists, such as notably Jacques Franck in France, revealed the extent to which Leonardo’s technique differed from that of other painters and how difficult it is to restore his works without defiling them. The English museum had been very reassuring in stating that it surrounded itself with the best skills available for this restoration, as has the Louvre for instance before undertaking that of Saint Ann which should begin soon.

1. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Virgin of the Rocks, c. 1491-1508
Before restoration
Panel - 189.5 x 120 cm
London, National Gallery
Photo : National Gallery

2. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Virgin of the Rocks, c. 1491-1508
After restoration
Panel - 189.5 x 120 cm
London, National Gallery
Photo : National Gallery


3. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Virgin of the Rocks, c. 1491-1508
After restoration with a new frame
Panel - 189.5 x 120 cm
London, National Gallery
Photo : National Gallery

According to the National Gallery’s press release, the decision to restore the painting was made after studying the work and those of students of Leonardo in its collections over a period of several years. The Virgin of the Rocks had suffered from unstable varnishes applied in 1948-1949 which had cracked and turned a deep yellow. This impaired a correct image of the painting. Again according to the museum, it would seem that this panel, partially incomplete and which until now had been thought to be mostly painted by Leonardo’s workshop, might have been entirely executed by the master himself.
A new frame was built by the National Gallery from parts (pillars and cornice) of a 16th century Italian frame acquired in Italy specifically for this purpose. This might be considered a curious step but is in fact, as explained by the museum, an attempt to recreate a frame close to the ones produced by Giacomo del Maino who had made the original one for the Virgin of the Rocks. In any case, the results (ill. 3) are beautiful.


Didier Rykner, lundi 19 juillet 2010



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