Controversial Leonardo Restoration to Be Unveiled in Major Louvre Show

30 March 2012

When London’s National Gallery mounted its blockbuster Leonardo da Vinci exhibition late last year, advance tickets sold out the first week, online scalpers pocketed up to $400 per ticket and crowds lined up around the block at dawn for the paltry number of tickets still for sale.

Now it may be Paris’s turn. On Thursday, the Louvre unveils a newly restored Leonardo masterpiece, “The Virgin and Child With St. Anne,” the centerpiece of a major exhibition running through June 25 of more than 130 works exploring the painting’s genesis, execution and legacy, as well as the cult of St. Anne in the late 15th century.

The new “St. Anne” dazzles with color and light. Gone is the heavy veil of yellow-brown and most of the dark stains left by aging varnish. New details have emerged: a rocky pool of water bathing the subjects’ feet; crisp lines in the imaginary landscape in pale blues; the right leg of the infant Jesus; the lamb’s tail and draping on the dresses that clearly show that Leonardo had not finished it when he died in 1519.

“It is a true resurrection of the ‘St. Anne,’” Vincent Delieuvin, the exhibition’s curator, said. “The painting has recovered a depth and a relief almost like sculpture, with an intense palette of lapis lazuli blue, lacquer red, grays and vibrant browns.”

Among the other works in “St. Anne: Leonardo da Vinci’s Ultimate Masterpiece,” as the exhibition is called, are preparatory studies by Leonardo; earlier versions of the work by his workshop; and other works influenced by it, the most important by Raphael and Michelangelo; a black-and-white study of the head of the Virgin lent by the Metropolitan Museum that resembles a photograph; and 22 Leonardo sketches lent by Queen Elizabeth.

The exhibition also brings together for the first time archival documents referring to the painting throughout history and two manuscripts by Leonardo on the science of painting.

Leonardo’s preparatory studies — including drawings, compositional sketches, landscape studies and the full-size cartoon tracing lent by The National Gallery of London — trace the transformation of the painting through three different versions. Infrared images and a full-scale photograph of the painting before restoration document the stages of the restoration.

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