07/27/2011 06:45 pm ET | Updated Sep 26, 2011

Two Versions Of Leonardo's 'Virgin Of The Rocks' To Be Reunited

Organizers in London and Paris have agreed to an unorthodox plan that will place two nearly identical Leonardo da Vinci paintings side by side. The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and John the Baptist, which hangs at the London's National Gallery, will be reunited with its counterpart at the Louvre, known as The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne.

The two museums' exchange, which the Guardian called "perhaps their most important collaboration ever," will likely be the centerpiece of a major Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery, which will also feature such paintings as Saint Jerome in the Wilderness and Lady with an Ermine.

The paintings, completed at least nine years apart, depict the Virgin Mary introducing Jesus to an infant John the Baptist. The scenes, which both take place in a rocky, cavernous landscape, differ in several details. The angel Gabriel, seated at right, is shown to be pointing at John the Baptist in the earlier, Paris version of the painting. In the London version, Leonardo removes that detail, but adds haloes and a cruciform staff for the young Saint John.

According to the Guardian, the original painting was "commissioned by the Milanese Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception for its new chapel at San Francesco Grande around 1482/3. The Louvre painting would have been the central panel of the altarpiece, if a row over the price had not led to it being sold to a third party."

On the uniqueness of this exchange, the Telegraph quotes Director of the National Gallery, Dr Nicholas Penny, who said “I am quite sure that the experience of seeing these masterpieces juxtaposed will be one that none of us will ever forget or that will ever be repeated. I am delighted that such a rich context for these comparisons will be provided at each venue.”