Da Vinci mystery: ‘Abandoned’ angel and Christ discovered beneath masterpiece

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Experts have used sophisticated imaging technology to reveal hidden drawings of an angel and Christ beneath a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece.

“The Virgin of the Rocks,” located at the National Gallery in London, revealed its secrets thanks to macro X-ray fluorescence technology that identified zinc in the drawings. Infrared and hyperspectral imaging were also used to reveal the hidden figures.

“Now for the first time Leonardo’s initial designs for the angel and the Infant Christ can be seen, showing significant differences to how they look in the finished painting,” the Gallery explained in a statement. “In the abandoned composition both figures are positioned higher up, while the angel, facing out, is looking down on the Infant Christ with what appears to be a much tighter embrace.”

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This is not the first time that technology has been used to unlock the masterpiece. In 2005, infrared imaging revealed a preliminary drawing of the Virgin Mary.

Leonardo da Vinci's "The Virgin of the Rocks", about 1491/2-9 and 1506-8. Tracing of the lines relating to underdrawing for the first composition can be seen.

Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Virgin of the Rocks”, about 1491/2-9 and 1506-8. Tracing of the lines relating to underdrawing for the first composition can be seen.
(© The National Gallery, London)

It is unclear, however, why da Vinci decided to ditch the original work. “Why Leonardo abandoned this first composition still remains a mystery,” said the National Gallery in its statement. “The new research has shown how the second underdrawing, while aligning much more closely to the finished version, nonetheless displays his characteristic elaborations and adjustments from drawing to painting. For instance, the angle of the Infant Christ’s head was changed so that he was seen in profile, while some parts of the angel’s curly hair have been removed.”

Human handprints have also been identified on the painting, although it is not known whether they belong to da Vinci, an assistant or someone else.

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‘The Virgin of the Rocks’ is one of three panels that da Vinci was commissioned to produce for an altarpiece in 1483.

‘The Virgin of the Rocks’ is one of three panels that da Vinci was commissioned to produce for an altarpiece in 1483. (VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

‘The Virgin of the Rocks’ is one of three panels that da Vinci was commissioned to produce for an altarpiece in 1483. (VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

“We know that ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’ was painted for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception in Milan, and that it is actually the second version of the painting,” the National Gallery added in a separate blog post. “An earlier version is now in the Louvre, in Paris, and it is believed that Leonardo sold the ‘Paris’ version to a private client when the Confraternity failed to offer him a sufficiently generous bonus.”

On Nov. 9, 2019, the National Gallery will launch an immersive exhibition centered on “The Virgin of the Rocks.” The exhibition, which involves video specialist 59 Productions, will different “multi-sensory experiences” across four rooms.

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May 2, 2019 marked the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death and the famous artist and inventor continue to be a source of fascination.

Da Vinci's "The Virgin of the Rocks" at the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London.

Da Vinci’s “The Virgin of the Rocks” at the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London.

Da Vinci’s thumbprint was recently discovered in a drawing by the Renaissance Master that is owned by Queen Elizabeth II. The hidden detail is revealed in the new book “Leonard da Vinci: A Closer Look,” which analyzes 80 of Leonardo’s drawings from the Royal Collection and sheds new light on the famous artist’s craft.

The thumbprint was found on “the cardiovascular system and principal organs of a woman,” an anatomical drawing by Leonardo that dates to around 1509 and 1510.

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Last summer, experts in Italy said they had found the earliest surviving work by da Vinci. The small glazed terracotta tile, which bears the date “1471,” is described as a self-portrait of the artist as the Archangel Gabriel.

The tile’s authenticity, however, has been questioned by noted Leonardo expert Martin Kemp, professor emeritus of the history of art at the University of Oxford.

A recent study also indicates that da Vinci, who was famously left-handed, was ambidextrous.

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In 2017, da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” painting sold for a record $450.3 million at Christie’s auction house in New York. Latin for “Savior of the World,” the painting is one of fewer than 20 works by Da Vinci that are known to exist.

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The Associated Press and Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers



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