When the cleaning and restoration of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne” got underway in 2010 it was overseen by an international scientific committee of 20 specialists.
Yet many were concerned that the work, which da Vinci spent 20 years on had still not completed at the time of his death in 1519, might be damaged or even destroyed.
When the restoration was completed earlier this year, the Louvre celebrated with an exhibition featuring archival material.
Included were da Vinci’s notebooks, sketches and preparatory drawings – including nearly two dozen on loan from the Royal Collection in Windsor – which convey the Italian genius’s thoughts about the composition, according to The Economist.
In addition to the oil painting itself, there is the preparatory drawing, titled the “Burlington House Cartoon,” a 55-inch-by-41-inch work, and three additional paintings by da Vinci, though not the “Mona Lisa.”
The Economist’s Books, Arts and Culture column is smitten with the restored “Saint Anne”:
“To this viewer ‘Saint Anne’ looks marvelous,” it writes. “The Virgin’s voluminous wrap seems spun out of lapis lazuli and summer clouds.”
Da Vinci revolutionized the treatment of the subject of St Anne, the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus, bringing them to life, according to The Economist.
“Leonardo’s portrait of grandmother, mother and child was full of movement and emotion. It is now one of the most cherished masterpieces in Western art,” the publication writes.
A monumental Anne sits with her adult daughter perched on her lap. Mary reaches out trying to keep a grip on Jesus who is half-straddling a lamb. One can talk about the painting’s technical virtuosity, the forcefulness of its triangular composition, the way the dreamy jagged background contrasts with the scrubbland on which the figures rest. These elements all contribute to the work’s greatness. But what has made viewers take it to their hearts is Leonardo’s evocation of a subject that is at once universal and not of this earthly world – the love and tension between generations and also between humanity and the divine.
Not everyone has been a mother, but each of us was once a child. The viewer, therefore, has an intuitive connection with the people in the painting. We see a benign, even indulgent grandmother giving physical support to her daughter. Emotionally, however, she ignores Mary and gazes at her adorable and adored grandson. Mary has the disturbed expression of a mother worried over her willful little boy. The infant looks back to his mother, as if to reassure her, but he will not abandon the lamb. It is as if Anne accepts what Mary has not yet been able to, that Jesus is the sacrificial lamb, the Lamb of God.
The da Vinci work was acquired by Francis I of France and is regarded as perhaps second only to the “Mona Lisa” among Leonardo’s later works, according to the New York Times.