Events | Arcadia Charity Talk 5: The Virgin of the Rocks from the National Gallery


Arcadia Talk 5 for the NHS (the penultimate in this lecture series) is on one of two versions of Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings of the Virgin of the Rocks. The work in question now in the National Gallery, London, was part of an altarpiece made for the church of San Francesco Grande, Milan in Italy. The altarpiece stood in a chapel devoted to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.

Three spiritual figures communicate with each other in silence while the angel acts as a heavenly witness to the scene. The figures are set within a shady grotto, with views through the rocks to a watery landscape beyond. Leonardo’s portrayal of the crepuscular hour, coupled with his pioneering technique of sfumato (vaporous effects of atmosphere) conjures a beguiling and enigmatic ambiance which never ceases to allure spectators.

Recent conservation work has revealed that Leonardo painted this, his second version of the picture, in three phases. He probably started in 1491, finally completing the work in 1508.

Please find a recent article on the consummate Renaissance polymath, focussing predominantly on his pioneering inventions.

Several writers have taken inspiration from Leonardo’s National Gallery version of the work, such as this Poem by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Watch a brief introduction to the Virgin of the Rocks painting here.

Check out a current documentary on Leonardo via Art on the BBC.

Nick’s recommended reading on Leonardo:

Leonardo da Vinci – Walter Isaacson, October 2018

Leonardo da Vinci and The Virgin of the Rocks – Katy Blatt, April 2018 

Leonardo da Vinci – Martin Kemp, June 2019 

Talk Details: 

Please find an audio clip of the talk here:

If you still wish to donate £5 to support the NHS