There are two versions of Leonardo da Vinci's Madonna of the Rocks (the Louvre version was painted first). These two paintings are a good starting point for defining the qualities of the new High Renaissance style. Leonardo painted both pictures in Milan, where he had left Florence.
Normally, when we see Mary and Christ (for example, in the paintings of Lippi and Giotto), Mary is enthroned as the Queen of Heaven. Here, on the contrary, we see Mary sitting on the ground. This type of representation of Mary is called the Madonna of humility.
Mary has her right arm around the child St. John the Baptist, who makes a gesture of prayer to the child Jesus. The Christ child in turn blesses St John. Mary's left hand hovers protectively over her son's head while an angel looks on and points to St John. The characters are all set in a fabulous and mystical landscape with rivers that seem to lead into a representation of Paradise by Leonardo. In the foreground we see carefully observed and precisely rendered plants and flowers.
We immediately notice Mary's ideal beauty and graceful movements, characteristic of the High Renaissance.
This is the first time that an Italian Renaissance artist has completely abandoned halos. Fra Filippo Lippi has reduced the halo to a narrow ring around Mary's head. It is clear that the unreal and symbolic nature of the halo was at odds with Renaissance realism. In a way, it was a necessary vestige of the Middle Ages: how else to indicate the divinity of a figure?