In 2002 I commenced the coordination and interpretation of the most comprehensive scientific examinations ever carried out on Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Lansdowne’ Madonna of the Yarnwinder. What the analyses reveal , explanations of the processes by which features of the painting are uncovered and my interpretation of them were made publicly accessible through the research section of the Universal Leonardo web site. In 1991 the painting underwent an infra-red examination as part of an exhibition I took part in for the National Gallery of Scotland. However it was not until 2002 that the owner of the Lansdowne painting allowed it to undergo comprehensive examination under the guidance of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence with the collaboration of scientific departments in Florence, Rome and Perugia. Such a comprehensive analysis had not been undertaken on a Leonardo painting before. The aim was to discover as much as possible about the materials used by Leonardo, his approach to composing a painting, and his working methods.
The programme of scientific analyses involved the use of new technologies and delivered a wealth of new findings, for example, confirming Leonardo’s experimental approach by identifying materials not normally found in panel paintings. The underdrawing was found to include elements not visible in the final composition, showing that Leonardo was developing the arrangement and even subject, as he was painting, rather than adhering to a set plan. Publication of the findings through Universal Leonardo, for which I am head of scientific analysis, has made these discoveries accessible and provides a focus for on-going interdisciplinary collaboration. I am currently co-writing a book with Prof. Kemp about the research into this painting, its implications for Leonardo scholarship, and for the scientific analysis of paintings more generally.