Leonardo and the Virgin of the Rocks: One Artist, Two Virgins and Twenty Five Years
By Katy Blatt
3rd March 2021 6pm
Leonardo da Vinci completed fewer than twenty paintings in his lifetime, yet he returned twice to the same mysterious subject: The Virgin of the Rocks. The first, of c.1483-4, now at the Louvre in Paris, was Leonardo’s magnum opus, catapulting him from obscurity to fame in the court of the warlord, Ludovico Sforza. Yet its mysterious disappearance in the 1490s meant that Leonardo had to start again. When, in 1508, he finished the second version, now held at the National Gallery in London, he was nearing the end of his painting career and he was an international celebrity. He had been working on The Virgin of the Rocks for twenty-five years. Why did he revisit the same iconography twice? What is the meaning behind the cavernous subterranean landscape? What lies behind the colder monumentality of the second version?
Setting the scene in Republican Florence and then Sforza’s humanist court in Milan, Katy Blatt traces Leonardo’s journey as he completed this important altarpiece commission, in order to answer these questions. Acting as a window into the realms of human dissection and Neo-Platonic philosophy that inspired him, The Virgin of the Rocks becomes the key to understanding one of the greatest artists and thinkers in the history of western art.
This lecture is based upon Katy Blatt’s recent book, “Leonardo and the Virgin of the Rocks: One Painter, Two Virgins, Twenty-Five Years” (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2018). Katy trained at Cambridge University and then the Courtauld Institute of Art. She has worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, at Tate Britain and the Soane Museum, London, and at the Charles Rennie Mackintosh School of Art in Glasgow. She is currently Head of History of Art at Queen’s College, London.
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