The Virgin of the Rocks: Artists and Writers Responding to Leonardo c.1850-c.1930

The University of York
in collaboration with
the National Gallery, London,
Friday 6 December 2019

Univeristy of York & National Gallery logos

Department of History of Art, University of York
The National Gallery, London

Supported by:
YAHCs (York Art History Collaborations)

Image: detail of  The Virgin with the Infant Saint John the Baptist adoring the Christ Child accompanied by an Angel (‘The Virgin of the Rocks’) (c. 1491/2-9 and 1506-8 ) by Leonardo da Vinci; oil on poplar, thinned and cradled; National Gallery, London, NG 1903, bought 1880; photo ©National Gallery London


Panel 1


This colloquium will explore the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century reception of Leonardo in general, and The Virgin of the Rocks in particular. An object of fascination and enquiry from the time Mary Lamb first named the picture The Virgin of the Rocks in 1805, we will be tracking down poems, drawings, paintings, essays, treatises and other traces left by the painting. How was the painting perceived by different spectators? How exactly did its reputation spread?

The picture’s power might derive from its spiritual aura and the cult of the Immaculate Conception; or from the associations sparked by its cavernous setting among rocks and mountains; or by the lights and shadows of its chiaroscuro and sfumato. We look forward to discussing these and other responses and reactions to Leonardo and his Virgin of the Rocks.

Speakers will include Hugh Haughton on Rossetti’s sonnet; Susanna Avery-Quash on the National Gallery’s collecting; David Russell from Oxford and Lene Ostermark Johansen from Copenhagen on Pater’s essay; Luke Uglow on nineteenth-century connoisseurship, and Liz Prettejohn on artistic receptions of Leonardo.

The colloquium is being held in conjunction with the National Gallery Exhibition Leonardo: Experience a Masterpiece (ends 26 January 2020).  It is convened by Amanda Lillie, Liz Prettejohn and Hugh Haughton (University of York).

Panel 2


10.30: Registration, with coffee/tea

11:00-12.45 – Panel 1 – Chair: Caroline Campbell (National Gallery)

11.00: Louise Pullen (Curator of Ruskin Collection, Museums Sheffield)
‘“Mountains in Miniature”: John Ruskin and Geology’ (20 minutes)

11:30: David Russell (Faculty of English, University of Oxford)
‘Ruskin and Pater on the Rocks’ (20 minutes)

11.50: Hugh Haughton (Department of English, University of York)
‘“The dark avenue” and “things occult”: Rossetti, Pater, and Freud on Leonardo’ (30 minutes)

12.20-12.45: Discussion

12.45-1.30: Lunch

1.30-3.20: Panel 2 – Chair: Amanda Lillie (University of York)

1.30: Lene Østermark-Johansen (Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies, University of Copenhagen)
‘“The taste for what is bizarre and recherché in landscape”: Walter Pater on the Madonna of the Rocks’ (20 minutes)

1.50: Luke Uglow (Department of History of Art, University of York)
‘Leonardo and the Problem of Nineteenth-Century Connoisseurship: Morelli and Lermolieff or Crowe and Cavalcaselle?”’ (30 minutes)

2.20: Liz Prettejohn (Department of History of Art, University of York):
‘“Thronging it like echoes”: Our Lady of the Rocks and the Rossetti Circle’ (25 minutes)

2.45-3.20: Discussion

3.20-3.45: Coffee/tea

3.45-5.15: Panel 3 – Chair: Jason Edwards (University of York)

3.45: Susanna Avery-Quash (National Gallery, London)
‘The Reception of Leonardo and Lombard Art at the National Gallery in the 19th Century’ (30 minutes)

4.15: David Alexander (Honorary Keeper of Prints, Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge)
‘Leonardo’s Reputation in Britain: The Evidence from Prints, 1750-1850’ (30 minutes)

4.45 – 5.15: Discussion moving into Final Discussion

5.15: Drinks

Panel 3


Tickets can be booked on Eventbrite.  Places are limited: please do book.

Attendance at the Colloquium is free – and we hope you will choose to join us for lunch, which can be booked and paid for when booking a place.

There are 10 student tickets available that include a free lunch.


Panel 4 Placeholder