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 panel shortly before leaving Florence for Rome. When it was in the Camuccini Collection in Italy it was celebrated, but for more than a century it was thought to be only a copy.