This painting and 'The Donor and Saint Mary Magdalene' were originally the wings of an altarpiece. Here the Virgin is supported by Saint John the Evangelist. The focus of her anguish was presumably the figure of Christ in the lost central panel of the altarpiece. On the right-hand shutter is a male donor in ecclesiastical dress, probably a canon, who is presented by Mary Magdalene (she is identified by the pot of balm with which she anointed Jesus).
The antique influences on the style of the pictures strongly suggest they were painted after Heemskerck's return from a visit to Italy, where he studied Roman remains.