Rubens' use of slate is relatively rare as a medium, with his tending to prefer oil on panel or canvas. This selection would have presented different challenges and opportunities, both in its preservation and also the way in which the paint was absorbed and displayed.
This artwork came towards the end of his time living in Italy, where he stayed from 1600 to 1609. This period produced some of his finest work and also helped to develop his reputation across the country that had earlier begin the European Renaissance.
The artist's earlier work of the Ecstasy of St Gregory the Great was intended to fulfil the impressive commission for the Santa Maria in Vallicella before it was turned down on the grounds that it negatively impacted the flow of light coming in through the Church. Rubens would then get to work on a replacement, one which took off in a new direction completely and was finished on slate rather than canvas.
The new high-altarpiece was ready by the autumn of 1608 and was immediately accepted. It has remained at the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella in Rome ever since. This breaktaking painting features a huge number of figures, all beautifully depicted and each and every one of them facing towards the main focus of the artwork that sits in the upper center.
Madonna and child persisted throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Some of the best known works include Temptations of Christ by Botticelli, Madonna and Child with St Anne by Caravaggio, Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary by Raphael and Christ and Mary Magdalene by Titian.