Discussing the Madonna and Child theme in his work, Henry Moore wrote 'When I was first asked to carve a 'Madonna and Child' for St Matthew's [1943-4, The Church of St Matthew, Northampton], although I was very interested I wasn't sure whether I could do it, or whether I even wanted to do it. One knows that Religion has been the inspiration of most of Europe's greatest painting and sculpture, and that the Church in the past has encouraged and employed the greatest artists; but the great tradition of religious art seems to have got lost completely in the present day, and the general level of church art has fallen very low (as anyone can see from the affected and sentimental prettiness sold for church decoration in church art shops). Therefore I felt it was not a commission straightaway and light heartedly to agree to undertake, and I could only promise to make note-book drawings from which I would do small clay models [including the terracotta from which the present work was cast], and only then should I be able to say whether I could produce something which would be satisfactory as sculpture and also satisfy my idea of the 'Madonna and Child' theme as well.
There are two particular motives or subjects which I have constantly used in my sculpture in the last twenty years; they are the 'Reclining Figure' idea and the 'Mother and Child' idea. (Perhaps of the two the 'Mother and Child' has been the more fundamental obsession). I began thinking of the 'Madonna and Child' for St Matthew's considering in what ways a 'Madonna and Child' differs from a carving of just a 'Mother and Child' - that is, by considering how in my opinion religious art differs from secular art.
It's not easy to describe in words what this difference is, except by saying in general terms that the 'Madonna and Child' should have an austerity and a nobility, and some touch of grandeur (even hieratic aloofness) which is missing in the everyday 'Mother and Child' idea. Of the sketches and models I have done, the one chosen has I think a quiet dignity and gentleness. I have tried to give a sense of complete easiness and repose, as though the Madonna could stay in that position for ever (as being in stone, she will have to do)' (quoted in D. Sylvester, op. cit., p. XXV).