20:23 GMT06 May 2021
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    While fewer than 20 surviving paintings can be attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, his works just won’t stop providing researchers with a steady supply of puzzles and mysteries.

    An analysis involving X-rays revealed early sketches underneath the London version of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Virgin of the Rocks,” CNN reported Wednesday. This is one of two very similar sister paintings, one of which is on display in London and the other is displayed in Paris’s Louvre.

    The method, known as macro x-ray fluorescence (MA-XRF) revealed sketches made in ink hidden under layers of paint. The ink contained some zinc, which allowed it to be seen on the scan, London's National Gallery explained, according to CNN.

    In the abandoned composition, Virgin Mary looks right instead of left – both her and the angel’s eyes appear to be focused on an infant Jesus figure, whose face is turned away from the viewer toward the mother.

    By contrast, in the final version, Mary, the angel and the infant Jesus have their faces turned toward baby John the Baptist. Virgin Mary still looks at Jesus, but her face is turned towards John. Mary’s hands are also positioned differently in the early sketch.

    "In the abandoned composition both figures are positioned higher up, while the angel, facing out, is looking down on the Infant Christ with what appears to be a much tighter embrace," the gallery elaborated in a news release.

    ​The scan also revealed handprints made either by da Vinci himself or an apprentice who assisted with the painting, the press release says.

    Strangely enough, the Paris version is widely considered to be the original painting, dating to around 1483, while the London version is believed to have been painted later, sometime between 1495 and 1508.

    The stunning similarity between the two paintings, as well as the discrepancies between them, long puzzled researchers. The new sketches might suggest that either da Vinci planned to paint an entirely different version of “The Virgin of the Rocks,” but then for some reason changed his mind and painted an almost-identical copy; or the London version could be the original one after all. 

    The x-ray scan was commissioned ahead of a new exhibition called "Leonardo: Experience a Masterpiece," starting in November. The 500-year anniversary of Leonardo’s death was commemorated earlier this year.


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