Saturday, February 5, 2011

Delightful docent takes ArtTraveler on a tour inside restored "The Virgin of the Rocks" at National Gallery, London

Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" vs. "The Virgin of the Rocks": Which do you prefer?

Restored "The Virgin of the Rocks" with new frame at National Gallery, London.

She swept into Room 2 of the National Gallery in London, a pied piper with retinue of devout followers, this delightful and decent docent.

This petit woman with shoulder length, thick and flowing  silver gray hair, wrinkled face matching her age, exploding blue eyes and exuberant smile, filled this cavernous room with a special energy.

You could feel a vivacious art student in her 20's inside her.

In Spain, we call it duende, a human energy field you immediately sense about a person.

I was mesmarized as I listened to her. And I, too, joined her desciples as she moved from painting to painting.

I found myself standing close to her, on the front line of devotees as she described Leonardo da Vinci's "The Virgin of the Rock," newly framed by Peter Schade, newly restored in 2010 after 18 months of intense work, removing cracked and yellowing varnish and resolving whether every brush stroke of the work belonged to da Vinci.

 "There's no reason to go to the Louvre in Paris and stand in line for hours to only get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa," she told us. "For here is a more astounding and beautiful face." As though out of darkness, the original and perfectly drawn face emerges post restoration.

Detail from "The Virgin of the Rocks", Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), oil on wood, 189.5 x 120 cm, courtesy of The National Gallery, London (after restoration)

As I looked at our delightful docent, I shared focus with da Vinci's restored work.

Our leader then asked if any of us in the group was an oil painter. I sheepishly raised my hand. Then she bore down on me after informing us da Vinci painted in glazes, glaze upon glaze, as it turned out, for 25 years. "How long does it take for the paint to dry?" she asked me.

Luckily, with my year's working with oils and studying under Spanish maestro Jaime Adan, I had a good ballpark answer.

The National Gallery restoration team led by Larry Keith and Luke Syson confirmed every brush stroke is by da Vinci, not by any of his assistants as was once theorized. And da Vinci had an underdrawing showing a different composition for this commission.

Rock on and practice peace and love.

See ArtTraveler videos on YouTube and follow the 1,000 km Via de la Plata (Way of St. John) pilgramage of Dutch walkers Joost and Rob on day 25 from Seville to Santiago de Compostela. Their blog, although in Dutch, contains a growing gallery of photos you won't see anywhere else.

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM).


  1. very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great article! Definitely "The Virgin of the rocks"!!!
    It would have been nice if you could share photos before restoration and maybe the answer on "How long does it take for the paint to dry?"