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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

The Virgin of the Rocks

James C. Harris, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009;66(12):1286. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.169.
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In Biblical accounts when Herod, King of Judea, learned from the magi about the birth of Jesus, King of the Jews, he ordered the execution of all newly born male children in the village of Bethlehem. Mary and Elizabeth, the mothers of Jesus and John the Baptist, fled with their sons into Egypt. In The Virgin of the Rocks, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) illustrates the first meeting of the infants Jesus and John the Baptist in a protected rocky grotto where, in the midst of their flight, they have paused to rest. The meeting is not recorded in the Christian Bible but is reported in the apocryphal book of James. Tenderly Mary protects both children. Her right arm, placed around the infant St John the Baptist, comforts him as he leans forward to make homage to the Christ child; his hands are joined together in a gesture of prayer. Mary's left hand hovers protectively over the head of her son, Jesus, as he looks toward John and raises his right hand in a gesture of benediction to bless him. The angel Uriel, who by tradition rescued John from the slaughter of the innocents, draws the viewer's attention to St John by pointing directly to him. The pool of water in the foreground of the painting may anticipate Christ's later baptism by John. Both artist and scientist, Leonardo accurately portrays the rock formations in the grotto based on his geological observations north of Milan.

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Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Italian. Panels from the S. Francesco Altarpiece, Milan. An Angel in Green With a Vielle, about 1506. Oil on poplar, 116 × 61 cm. National Gallery, London, England. Photo credit: ©2009 National Gallery, London/Art Resource, New York, NY. The Virgin of the Rocks (The Virgin With the Infant Saint John Adoring the Infant Christ Accompanied by an Angel), about 1491-1508. Oil on wood, 189.5 × 120 cm. National Gallery, London, England. Photo credit: ©2009 National Gallery, London/Art Resource, New York, NY. An Angel in Red With a Lute, probably about 1490-1499. Oil on poplar, 118.8 × 61 cm. National Gallery, London, England. Photo credit: ©2009 National Gallery, London/Art Resource, New York, NY.

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Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Italian. The Virgin, Infant Jesus, John the Baptist and an Angel Also Called “The Madonna of the Rocks.”Oil on canvas, 199 × 122 cm. Louvre, Paris, France. Photo credit: Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, New York, NY.

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