19. A new look at the Virgin of the Rocks, National Gallery

Here is the National Gallery's Virgin of the Rocks as we are used to seeing it

Here is the National Gallery's Virgin of the Rocks with the Christ Child's
hand  digitally adjusted to give an impression of the appearance it would
have had, if Leonardo had chosen to complete it

       The completion of the Christ Child's upraised hand by the accentuation of light, compliant with that which touches his face and shoulder, gives a completely new dynamic to the picture.  The hand, with its sublime and benevolent  gesture, set strategically against the dark shadow of the Virgin's robe, becomes the focal point of the picture.  The entire profile of the body of the Christ Child is thrown into relief, putting a depth between him and his mother and St John.  The trapezoid arrangement of the figures becomes clearly three-dimensional.  The tension between the Christ and the Baptist is intensified.  The Christ becomes truly divine, and John, in the shelter of Mary's cloak, truly representative of humanity.   

      With the emphasis of light on the Christ Child, and in the absence of the angel's hand that was inserted in the later version, Mary's raised hand takes on its full meaning, very different to the gesture with which she envelops John.  It hovers above the head of the Christ Child as a prescience of the dove of the Holy Spirit at his Baptism, and an implication of the words spoken by the Heavenly Father: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!"

This is the majestic image of the Immaculate Conception, as Leonardo must have originally intended it to be seen.  What a pity that the Confraternity created difficulties over the matter of money! 

copyright Tamsyn Taylor, November 2011