The Virgin of the Rocks 1483-1484/85

Oil on wood, transferred to canvas, 197.3 x 120cm Paris, Louvre


The painting which was transferred from panel to canvas in 1806. While the figures are preserved in relatively good condition, the dark section of the background landscape have suffered particular damage. It is about 8 cm (3 in) taller than the London version.
The virgin of the Rocks was originally commissioned by the Milan-based Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception for a chapel in the church of San Francesco Grande in Milan.

Leonardo's painting formed the central panel of a large altarpiece. It was flanked by two pictures of angels making music, painted by Ambrogio de Predis, which like the second version of the Virgin of the Rocks are today housed in the National Gallery in London.

The origins of the commission are extensively documented. On 8 May 1479 the Franciscan Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception arranged for the ceiling of its chapel in san Francesco to be frescoed.
This contract contains an itemized list of all the elements of the picture and pledges.
The due date of installation was December 8, 1483, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, giving seven months for its completion.

The terms of payment are also calculated on the basis of about 20 monthly instalments. The overall fee for the painting was agreed at 800 lire, of which the first instalment of 100 lire was paid to the artist on 1 may 1483. From July 1483 onwards they were to receive 40 lire a month. When the work was completed they were also to receive a bonus, to be calculated by Fra Agostino Ferrari and two other members of the confraternity. The artists appear to have met the deadline laid down in the contract.

A recently published document shows that, at the end of December 1484, the artists received 730 lire, taking the money paid to them for their work almost up to the agreed total. The first virsion of the Virgin of the Rocks must thus have been all but finished by this point in time.

The first certain record of this picture is in 1625, the Virgin of the Rocks now in the Louvre was seen at Fontainebleau by Cassiano dal Pozzo. It is generally accepted that this painting was produced to fulfill a commission of 1483 in Milan.