3. Dating the paintings: the accepted opinion

Concerning the problems of dating of the two versions of the  Virgin of the Rocks, the most usual interpretation of the available facts, and the deductions drawn from them, by art historians, are as follows: 

Virgin of the Rocks
, Louvre

1.     The Virgin of the Rocks in the Louvre is regarded as being almost entirely by Leonardo.
The Virgin of the Rocks in the National Gallery is regarded as being the work of Leonardo and assistants.  Some critics agree that Leonardo had the assistance of Ambrogio de Predis alone.  Others see the hand of Luini.

2.     The Louvre Virgin of the Rocks is generally considered to be the earlier.  This assumption is made on stylistic grounds.  The more ethereal, dreamlike quality of the Louvre painting is considered to be stylistically more in keeping with Neo Platonist trends in Florentine painting in the 1480's while the emphasis on solid form, starker lighting and precision of detail in the National Gallery Virgin of the Rocks is considered to be more in keeping with painting of the early 1500s. 

3.     It is agreed that it was the National Gallery Virgin of the Rocks that was placed in Giacomo del Maino's frame in 1508 because it fits the dimensions of the frame exactly.  Moreover it is certain that this is the same painting that was purchased in 1785 by Hamilton from the heirs of the Confraternity and the history of which can be traced from that point.  These points are not disputed. 

4.    Some art historians suggest that the Louvre painting was completed and delivered to the Confraternity perhaps as early as 1483 in fulfilment of the contract or perhaps as late as 1486.  Others suggest that no painting was delivered until 1506 or 1508. 

5.     It is suggested that Leonardo reclaimed the Louvre painting from the Confraternity and sold to a  private patron.   At this time, it is theorised, the second painting, the National Gallery version, was begun as a replacement, but Leonardo left Milan and the painting which he had completed, that is- the Louvre Virgin of the Rocks, went with him, leaving the partially completed work, the London painting, for Ambrogio de Predis and perhaps Luini to finish. 

6.  A second theory dates the Louvre Virgin of the Rocks still earlier, suggesting that it was done in Florence and taken by Leonardo to Milan as a sample of his work.  This theory presumes that Leonardo had already created a work of the same size and shape as that required for del Maino's altarpiece,  prior to the commission, which is most unlikely.  

Next page:  4Dates: an opposing view