This small, beautiful canvas of the Virgin swaddling the Christ Child before a landscape with broken columns and ruins, replicates a motif taken from one of La Hyre's first great masterpieces, The Nativity (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen). La Hyre's first series of important commissions was given him by the Capuchin monks of the Marais and the rue Saint-Honoré. The Nativity, a vast altarpiece--four and a half meters high--with the Holy Family being adored by the shepherds, set amid the crumbling ruins of a great temple, is signed and dated 1635 and was placed on the High Altar of the church of the Capuchins de Marais (from which it was removed in 1794).
The present painting isolates the motif of the Virgin and Child from this larger composition and replicates it, removing the surrounding figures and placing mother and child against the corner of a temple. The present painting has been variously thought to be a study for the altarpiece, and a later copy by another hand, this principally because La Hyre is not known to have 'extracted' parts of compositions to be used again in smaller format, independent works. However, the very high quality of the present work, its delicate palette, luminous flesh tones and subtly modeled, translucent shadows are characteristic of La Hyre's hand, and scholarly opinion now endorses the attribution to the master. It is probable that La Hyre reproduced this tender motif as an independent, small-scale work for the private devotion of a collector, and did so shortly after the completion of the altarpiece; that is, circa 1635.