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Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks

The greatest achievement of the exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan,” currently on view at the National Gallery in London, has been to bring together for the first time the two versions of Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks. Marking the occasion, Artforum invited art historian Martin Kemp to trace the genealogy of the paintings and to discuss the nature of the differences between them.

Leonardo da Vinci, The Virgin of the Rocks, ca. 1483–85, oil on wood transferred to canvas, 78 3/8 x 48".

THEY FACE EACH OTHER across the room, about fifteen paces apart. One is normally resident at the National Gallery itself, while the other is visiting from the Louvre. They are the same shape and very nearly the same size, and they contain the same pictorial elements: the Virgin, Child, infant Saint John, and archangel Uriel (who had rescued the baby saint from the Massacre of the Innocents, according to apocryphal texts, and escorted him with his mother into the wilderness). They

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