The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist (Burlington House cartoon) 1507-08

The theme of this drawing, in which the Virgin Mary sits on the lap of her mother, Saint Anne, while the Christ Child blesses St. John the Baptist, seen on the right, is a repeated theme in Leonardo’s drawings and paintings.

Leonardo’s approach to the theme is illustrated in surviving drawings, which demonstrate how he employed the innovative “brainstorming” technique of drawing, as a way of developing artistic figure compositions directly from imagination.

The date and purpose of this cartoon remains controversial, but it is certain that the drawing was made for a painting of the same scale, which presumably was never painted. The cartoon has not been pricked for transfer onto another support and neither is there any evidence of tracing. Leonardo made another cartoon, now lost, of the Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist about 1500-01, and a later painting, now in the Louvre, Paris.

A prevalent theory has recently been revived in the literature that the cartoon originated as a commission from King Louis XII of France about 1499-1500. However, on stylistic grounds, the cartoon is usually dated somewhat later, to the years 1506-08.

  • Medium Charcoal, black and white chalk on tinted paper
  • Size 141.5 x 104.6 cm
  • Location National Gallery

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