top of page

One Painter, Two Virgins, Twenty-Five Years

by Katy Blatt

leonardo &

the virgin of the rocks

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? 

Set in Republican Florence and then Sforza's humanist court in Milan, the book traces Leonardo's journey as he completed this important altarpiece commission, in order to answer these questions. Acting as a window into the secret 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.

the Story
katy blatt


Public Engagements


"Leonardo's oeuvre is well documented, yet this book is unique in its focus on his two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks. Katy Blatt's thematic approach allows for new links to be made between these paintings and their intellectual resonance. Unusually vivid and arresting in its interpretation of the artist and his times, this is a valuable, eminently readable contribution to the paintings within their wider cultural contexts."



Next Event
12 May 2020, 12:00
The National Gallery,
Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, London WC2N 5DN, UK
bottom of page