It took six years to complete, but the result was worth the wait: the painstaking restoration of Leonardo’s unfinished Adoration of the Magi by Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence has given new life to this early masterpiece of the Renaissance genius. The passing of time had altered the painting’s color scheme, and cracks in the wooden planks threatened its structural strength.
Without the layers of dirt and non-original varnish, viewers will now be able to see the original light blue of the sky, the candor of the faces, the dark brown of the background. In addition, as explained by the restorers, elements have emerged which were not obvious before and which hint at experimentations found in later works: the battle of knights in the background calls to mind the Battle of Anghiari; the old man close to the Virgin resembles a study of San Girolamo, and the water reflections visible under Maria’s feet evoke the visual effect that appears more decisively in the Virgin of the Rocks.
Adoration of the Magi is an early work of Leonardo, commissioned by the Augustinian Friars of the San Donato a Scopeto Church in Florence in 1481. The Renaissance genius moved to Milan the following year and left the painting unfinished. In the late 1500s, it was acquired by the Medici for their collection.
The large oil painting is now back at the Uffizi Gallery, where it has been since 1670, and will be part of a special exhibition which will run through to September, “The magical universe of Leonardo da Vinci: The Adoration of the Magi restored,” where a similar work of art will feature: the Adoration by Filippino Lippi, who was commissioned the painting by the monks of Scopeto after Leonardo left for Milan without finishing the work.
Adoration of the Magi is Leonardo's largest surviving panel, measuring about 2.5 by 2.5 meters.
The Opificio delle Pietre Dure, a research and conservation institute of the Italian culture ministry, is an international leader in art restoration.