This small devotional picture was painted for Christian contemplation; its original owner would have held the painting in his or her hand. It shows the Virgin and Child seated in a bedchamber (the bed-curtain is looped behind the Virgin's head) with a view of a sunny landscape seen through a window. They hand flowers between them - pinks which are symbols of marriage - depicting the Virgin Mary as not only the Mother but the Bride of Christ.
Raphael transforms this familiar subject into something entirely new. The mother and son are no longer posed stiffly and formally as in paintings by earlier artists, but now display all the tender emotions one might expect between a young mother and her child.
This painting is freely based on a famous composition by Leonardo da Vinci (the 'Benois Madonna' in the Hermitage, St Petersburg). Raphael painted the picture shortly before leaving Florence for Rome. It is first documented in the Camuccini Collection in Rome in the early 19th century. When the collection was sold to the fourth Duke of Northumberland in 1853 it was one of the star items until experts proclaimed it only a copy.