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17 September 2014
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Virgin of the Rocks
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Virgin of the Rocks was the first painting executed by Leonardo after he arrived in Milan. Critics argue over exactly what the painting depicts; some claim it shows the immaculate conception, while others think it recalls the moment when the infant Christ met St John the Baptist.

When Leonardo was commissioned to paint this piece, he was given a year to complete it. True to form, he over-ran, and a lengthy law suit followed. Leonardo also fell out with his sponsors over how much he should be paid for the work. Perhaps this is why he began a second version of the painting to give to the commissioners, selling the first on elsewhere.

See the National Gallery version of this painting

There is some debate as to whether both artworks are entirely by Leonardo. In particular, the version that hangs in the National Gallery may have been a collaboration between Leonardo and a second artist, or may have been a project which he simply oversaw.
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Look For - The painting is set in a cave. Was he giving himself an opportunity to paint nature - or was he implying that nature was his church?

Leonardo has painted light to give this picture structure and form. Before Leonardo, artists had only used light crudely in their work.
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More from

BBC Leonardo Gallery
More Leonardo paintings

Go further

Leonardo: The Man, His Machines
In depth information about the Virgin of the Rocks

Leonardo's Geology
What do the background of the Virgin paintings tell us about their authenticity?

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