Da Vinci’s Secret Underdrawings In ‘Virgin Of The World’ Found After 500 Years



Image via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

500 years after the death of Leonardo da Vinci, art lovers are only beginning to scratch the surface of his creative process. A new discovery sees incredible underdrawings in the polymath’s The Virgin of the Rocks (about 1491/2-9 and 1506-8), allowing art lovers to view the piece with fresh eyes.

Using new techniques like the use of macro X-ray fluorescence maps and hyperspectral imaging, the National Gallery of London is now able to visualize Da Vinci’s underdrawings more clearly. Through these methods, researchers were able to confirm that the artist sketched his drafts with a zinc-based pigment.

This comes after the museum studied the oil-on-panel painting with infrared reflectography in 2005, later spending 18 months to restore the masterpiece in 2008. While the institution knew from its earlier research that Da Vinci had reworked the piece, technological advancements have made it possible for conservators to see the big picture.

It turns out that Da Vinci was a true perfectionist, as he walked back and forth between a few concepts before settling on this final idea. One sketch presents a pretty different composition from the final artwork, and shows the Mary kneeling over infant Jesus, with an angel looking on. The subjects are also depicted higher up on the panel.



Leonardo da Vinci 1452 – 1519, ‘Virgin of the Rocks’ – tracing of the lines relating to underdrawing for the first composition, incorporating information from all technical images. © The National Gallery, London, featured with permission



Tracing of the lines relating to underdrawing for the first composition, incorporating information from all technical images. © The National Gallery, London, featured with permission

Another underdrawing portrays a picture much closer to the finalized The Virgin of the Rocks, but the head of baby Jesus is positioned at a different angle.

Another hidden feature is the cluster of fingerprints on the Virgin Mary’s cheek, imprinted by either the artist or his helpers. While the marks were concealed with paint, high-res photos bring them to light.



‘Virgin of the Rocks’ – raking light detail of the Virgin’s eye and cheek including the palm print in the priming layer. © The National Gallery, London, featured with permission

Art enthusiasts can enjoy these revelations up-close, among other discoveries of Da Vinci’s work, at the National Gallery of London’s Leonardo: Experience a Masterpiece exhibition in November.

[via artnet News, images via various sources] http://www.designtaxi.com/news/405883/Da-Vinci-s-Secret-Underdrawings-In-Virgin-Of-The-World-Found-After-500-Years/

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