A preliminary study for the picture of the same name in the Pinacoteca Civica, Cento (Fig. 1), commissioned from Guercino by the Compagnia del Santissimo Nome di Dio in circa 1628-30 (Salerno, op. cit., Rome, 1988, no. 127). Another study for the same picture, formerly in the Duke Roberto Ferretti Collection, was sold in these Rooms on 2 July 1996, lot 35 (Fig. 2) and four further drawings are known for the composition: one which shows the figures at half-length, in the Institut Néerlandais (Byam Shaw, op. cit), a red-chalk drapery study of Christ's mantle in the Fachsenfeld collection in the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (C. Thiem, 'Unpublished drawings by Guercino in the Collection of Schloss Fachsenfeld', Master Drawings, XVII, no. 4, 1979, p. 415, no. 7, pl. 16), a study of the Virgin in the Museo Civico, Pavia and a compositional sketch offered at Christie's, New York, 30 January 1998, lot 67.
The present drawing, which must postdate the Ferretti study, shows the Virgin in the pose which she occupies in the finished picture, although the angle and inclination of her head is a little different. In the painting, however, Guercino shows Christ in a monumental, statuesque stance, without the dynamism of the present drawing or the Ferretti sheet, in both of which he strides into the composition from the left.
Henry Constantine Jennings (1731-1819), who owned this drawing in the 18th Century, was an avid collector of art and antiques who is known to have purchased drawings by Guercino directly from Casa Gennari. He is best known today as a prior owner of the 'Jennings Dog', the 2nd-Century AD sculpture of a seated guard dog, which was saved for the nation in 2001 and is now in the British Museum (inv. 2001,1010.1).