The painting was acquired by Ludwig Mond as the work of the Renaissance painter-goldsmith Francesco Francia in 1893 and retained this attribution until 1954. Another version of the composition had appeared on the art market in that year (now Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh). It was argued by some that this newly discovered work was Francia’s original, and that the National Gallery’s picture was a later copy or forgery.
Technical evidence seemed to support this argument, not least because the painter had made every effort to make it look old, even painting ‘cracks’ on the surface. Further investigations in 1998 suggested on the contrary that the painting, though clearly considerably overpainted, may well have been, after all, painted by Francia. In 2009, however, a renewed campaign of scientific examination, based on comparative study, has established beyond doubt that this picture was painted in the 19th century, probably as a deliberate fake.
Francia’s paintings were particularly sought after in this period, and the picture now in Pittsburgh would have had special appeal. An angel offers to the infant Christ in a fantastic golden chalice, considered one of the few indications of the appearance of Francia's work as a goldsmith – almost all of which has been lost.