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Three Leonardo Paintings on View in London

Two versions of Leonardo’s "Virgin of the Rocks" and his "Lady With the Ermine" are in the exhibit, "Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan" at the National Gallery, London until February 2012.

After visiting the National Gallery in London and the Louvre in Paris, I realized how Leonardo is undeniably the master of sfumato, the technique where similar midtones of color are used and edges are blurred. The "Mona Lisa" at the Louvre is Leonardo’s most famous example of this technique in painting.

Both versions of Leonardo’s "Virgin of the Rocks" have some similarities. The figures are: John the Baptist as an infant, Mary, an angel and the baby Jesus. They are both in a setting of rocks, but their gazes and gestures differ from one painting to another.

The Louvre version is believed by experts to be the earlier painting, dating from 1483-86. Leonardo was commissioned in 1483 to paint "Virgin of the Rocks." It is believed that the artist sold this painting privately, and then painted the later version, which resides at the National Gallery, to fulfill the commission.

The National Gallery version is slightly smaller, dated 1495-1508, and differs in: the artist’s use of sfumato, botanicals, the figures’ gazes and their gestures. The Louvre painting is softer in color, the flora is more realistic, and the angel points to infant John the Baptist with eyes cast downward, while wearing a green and red cloak.

Both paintings have been scientifically proven to show that they were both executed by the artist Leonardo da Vinci himself.
Also, the halos and John the Baptist’s reed staff is missing from the Louvre version.

The third painting on display, "Lady With the Ermine" (1489-90) is only one of four known portraits of women by Leonardo.
Another, "Ginevra de’ Benci" was painted in 1474 and resides at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. I can attest to the beauty of this painting as it is one of my favorites and a necessary stop when I visit Washington.
The link to my article is provided below.

The "Lady With the Ermine" was loaned by the National Museum in Cracow for this special exhibit. It is a portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, a teenager, who is believed to have been the mistress to the Duke of Milan. She turns her head to the left, with her right hand outstretched, as in the manner of the "Mona Lisa" holding an animal, believed to be an ermine or ferret.

As it has been deducted by art historians that there are only fifteen known Leonardo’s, this is an incredible opportunity to view three in one location, the National Gallery, London.

You can own a Giclee print of the Louvre's version of Leonardo's "Virgin of the Rocks." Available here from

If you visit London to see the exhibit or just wish you were there, you can own a Giclee print of the other painting discussed here, "Lady With an Ermine."

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Genevra de' Benci article
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