This version of the painting for the ancona (a carved wooden altar with frames where paintings were inserted) in the chapel of the Immacolata in the church of San Francesco Grande in Milan has distinctly 16th-century characteristics: larger figures, made more plastic by a very decided chiaroscuro so unlike Leonardo that scholars were immediately led to consider the work a collaboration.
The canvas is generally considered the one that replaced the first version of the Virgin of the Rocks on the altar of the Immaculate Conception, after that version had been given to Louis XII.
This version was then, in 1785, purchased by the English collector Gavin Hamilton.
It was joined, in England, in 1898, by the two musician-angels of the De Predis brothers, and the three paintings are now displayed together in London's NGA.
Леонардо да Винчи
Leonardo da Vinci
Лондон: Нац. гал.
This version shows some details generally neglected by Leonardo in the other version: the haloes of the figures, the child St John's cross of reeds.
Other elements which differ from the Paris picture are the pose of the angel, who no longer points his finger towards the little Paraclete, and his face, whose gaze no longer seeks out the spectator, but is directed inwards.
The drapery, too, which in the Paris version was heavy and concealed the body, is lighter here, revealing the anatomical structure.
Also the rocks seem painted in a more plastic fashion; the light does not glide over them, creating dewy areas of semi-darkness, but leaves strong contrasts of light and dark.
The flesh of the children here is less tender, and though the shadows are insistent, the children's faces seem flatter and less sweet than those of the two sublime creatures in Paris.
The intervention of followers on the painting already sketched by Leonardo has made the portrayal less vibrant, more banal, though it retains a compositional authority and an originality in its variants that make this work not a copy but an autonomous version, of high quality, of the unequalled masterpiece in the Louvre.