The Natinoal Gallery’s “Virgin of the Rocks,” attributed to Leonardo da Vinci (image via Wikimedia)

New research suggests that Leonardo da Vinci’s “Virgin of the Rocks” at the National Gallery — one of the British museum’s most prized possessions — might not be the work of the master after all, the Guardian reported.

In her new book Tweeting da Vinci, geologist and art historian Ann Pizzorousso argues that the painting couldn’t be the work of the scientifically faithful artist, because it contains inaccurately rendered flowers and unnatural rocks. “There is absolutely nothing in his body of work that is not true to nature,” she told the Guardian.

The Louvre’s “Virgin of the Rocks” by Leonardo da Vinci (image via Wikimedia) (click to enlarge)

Her conclusions build on the observations of the horticulturist John Grimshaw, who told the newspaper that the plants in the painting “go against everything that Leonardo’s always done in terms of his botanical art. They’re not real flowers. They’re odd concoctions, like a half-imagined aquilegia. And looking at the daffodil, for example, the flowers are OK, but the plant is not right.”

What makes Pizzorusso’s and Grimshaw’s argument so compelling is that there are actually two versions of “Virgin of the Rocks,” and they’re not identical. The National Gallery’s website explains that Leonardo created the first version of the painting around 1483 as an altarpiece for a confraternity. After they refused to give him a fair price, he angrily sold it to someone else, and it eventually wound up in the Louvre. Years later, the brotherhood commissioned the artist to complete a second version, which now hangs in the National Gallery.

“The botany in the Louvre version is perfect, showing plants that would have thrived in a moist, dark grotto,” Pizzorusso said. “But the plants in the London version are inaccurate. Some don’t exist in nature, and others portray flowers with the wrong number of petals.”

If true, her findings would corroborate an earlier view held by the National Gallery itself that the painting was a copy by one of Leonardo’s followers. It was only after the piece was restored in 2010 that the museum concluded it really was the work of the master’s hand.

Responding to Pizzorusso’s research, Artwatch UK Director Michael Daily called it “the nail in the coffin of the attribution to Leonardo.”

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...