Drawings made by Leonardo da Vinci underneath one of his most popular paintings have been revealed.
The National Gallery – which is preparing an “immersive exploration” of work by the Renaissance master – has undertaken scientific research into The Virgin Of The Rocks.
It uncovered the artist’s initial designs for the angel and the infant Christ, with “significant differences to how they look in the finished painting”.
Experts spent months using imaging techniques on the “abandoned composition”.
“Both figures are positioned higher up in the drawing, while the angel, facing out, is looking down on the infant Christ with what appears to be a much tighter embrace,” the National Gallery said.
“Why Leonardo abandoned this first composition still remains a mystery…
“Handprints resulting from patting down the priming on the panel to create an even layer of more or less uniform thickness can also be seen, probably the work of an assistant – but perhaps even by Leonardo himself.”
The drawings were made in a material containing some zinc, so could be seen in macro X-ray fluorescence (MA-XRF) maps, and with infrared and hyperspectral imaging.
It comes as the National Gallery announces an “immersive exploration of da Vinci’s genius as a painter, focusing on The Virgin Of The Rocks.
Its ground-floor galleries “will be completely transformed into a space that investigates this painting and the inventive mind that created it”.
There will be “multi-sensory experiences” in four rooms, including a chapel-like environment to see what its setting may have looked like.
The experience has been created with 59 Productions, which worked on the V&A’s David Bowie exhibition.
National Gallery director Dr Gabriele Finaldi said: “This exhibition represents a fascinating new venture for the National Gallery, combining the most recent technical research on The Virgin Of The Rocks with an immersive, enveloping experience, giving visitors the opportunity to explore Leonardo da Vinci’s creative process in making this masterpiece.”
Richard Slaney, managing director of 59 Productions, said: “By focusing on this single artwork, the experience will introduce visitors to this great painting through the bold techniques and innovative approach of Leonardo, making it feel reinvigorated and newly relevant for contemporary audiences.”
In May, a sketch of a bearded man, owned by the Royal Collection, was “identified” as Leonardo da Vinci.
Researchers discovered in 2005 that the Virgin’s pose had been changed in The Virgin Of The Rocks.
Leonardo: Experience A Masterpiece opens on November 9 2019 and runs until January 12 2020.