Francesco Bissolo is first recorded in the studio of Giovanni Bellini in circa 1492 and throughout his long career his pictures display a stylistic dependence on his master. The present panel is a relatively early work by the artist: the Madonna and Child depend, in reverse, on a popular type evolved by Bellini, apparently in the 1490s. A version by a studio hand with an ostensibly genuine Bellini signature 'IOHANNES BELLINVS' (B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, Venetian School, London, 1967, pl. 385 as Nicolò Rondinelli), is the finest extant example of this two-figure composition in which the Child gazes at a bird that has flown away; there are numerous contemporary variants by other hands. Bellini himself added a half-length figure of Saint John the Baptist to a studio version of the Madonna group (executors of the late Lord Wraxall), and the resulting composition was itself copied by Rondinelli in a panel in the Doria Pamphilj collection, Rome. The main group was used for two other compositions with Saint John, but this is the only known instance in which another saint is introduced. The bird perched on the lower bar was perhaps suggested by the swallow in flight of the Bellini design.
The present picture is one of at least eight known signed works by the artist and was instrumental in defining his early oeuvre; Coletti (loc. cit.) referred to it as 'un quadro, finora non conosciuto o non avvertito, che sconvolge questa previsione, e che potrà forse servire a ritrovare altre opere giovanili di questo artista'.